Webinar #3: The wellbeing of international students during COVID-19

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This week’s webinar brought together Jenna Weber, Head of Operations at Scape, and Robert Chasse, National Partnerships Manager, Education, at Sonder, to discuss the wellbeing of international students during COVID-19.

Commencing the webinar, Insider Guides’ James Martin addressed the Prime Minister’s “it’s time to go home” statement, reinstating the importance for the international education sector to maintain solidarity and continue to provide the utmost care for students.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact all aspects of our lives,” he said. “Our sector has always been focused on providing the best experience. What more can be done to show students we’re here, and we’re going through this together? How can we move together as a sector?”

The webinar started by exploring the immediate responses from Scape and Sonder, and then went into a discussion on what was next for each business. With specific and successful implementation of student support strategies by both organisations, the sector can find inspiration to continually improve responses to COVID-19.

For Scape, the focus is on: “A year that lasts a lifetime … ensuring consistency in services.”

With strategies dating back to 21 January, Jenna explains that changes at Scape buildings were carried out incredibly rapidly, with increased cleaning of high-touch points and the implementation of asking new student arrivals to share their travel and flight history. This immediate response proved invaluable when, in the following weeks, potential high-risk COVID-19 cases could be quickly identified through the information provided and have their safety managed immediately. Moving forward, Scape was able to respond to travel bans and mandatory self-isolation cases with ease.

“We have been on the front foot since day dot,” said Jenna. “We started supplying essentials packs, which included cleaning items for the room, toothbrushes and toothpaste, toilet paper and meals that would get students through the first 48 hours until they could settle. We are trying to make life as normal as possible for these students.”

The role of Sonder, particularly during this pandemic, was then explained by Robert.

“Our product is connecting humans to humans,” he said. “We aim to get help by anyone’s side, anywhere in the world, within twenty minutes. Support requires us to be … their friend, their big brother, their big sister.”

In response to changes in trends, Robert has found that 90% of new student sign-ups to the Sonder service since March have been actively engaging with the support at hand:  “With COVID specific support, we’ve found that medical, mental and wellbeing support are most used.”

For Sonder, ‘wellbeing’ is defined as peace of mind and relieving uncertainty, stress and other issues such as procrastination. Mental health is defined as pre-existing conditions, from panic and anxiety to depression and loneliness.

“Sonder links students to the support services that are available to them,” said Robert. “You can build a service, but students might not necessarily come … they won’t engage with it. Our job is raising awareness and not forcing it on them, just making it available.”

Scape and Sonder have built an effective partnership, which has been enhanced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Students are at the centre of what we do,” said Robert. “Their wellbeing is paramount, so we have to work together.”

As such, Robert and Jenna identify this challenging time as one of innovation.

“In times like this, this is where innovation thrives, because we’re forced to innovate to achieve what we’re going to achieve,” Robert said. 

“It’s a great opportunity to challenge what we thought the norm was,” added Jenna. “Now, everyone can breathe for a second and start to implement new best-practices.”

*Content has been edited for clarity

Topics covered:

  • How Scape Student Living is providing support to students
  • How Sonder works and provides on-demand support for students and staff
  • What has Sonder’s response system been over the past three months?
  • The trends in types of support students are searching for
  • How do you locate students in need of support?
  • Are students responding positively to safety and cleanliness measures?
  • Scape’s pandemic support package – what does this initiative look like for students?
  • Are students wanting to stay in Australia?
  • How is Scape responding to cancellation and deferment requests?
  • There are negative impacts that misinformation on COVID-19 can have – what is Sonder doing in response?
  • Is repurposing student accommodation for quarantine feasible?
  • Student support – Australia vs the world
  • What more can we do to ensure Australia is a world leader in student support services
  • What are innovations in the sector and what’s going to happen in terms of where students will get support in the future?