Here is a great example of a creative way to connect with participants virtually prior to departure from Volunteer Sending Coordinator, Erin Sanders, of the San Francisco Area Team.
In addition to their students attending the National Virtual PDO in NH20, the Team invited them to participate in a Q&A Session over Zoom.
Our Q&A session was for 2 hours from 10am-12pm on a Saturday. We used our team's Zoom account that we pay for. I had seven or so volunteers on the call, two of whom were recent younger returnees. I started with a brief intro about PDOs and what we normally do in person for students and explained they would be getting a lot of that info at the National PDOs and Pre-Program Webinars in a few weeks. After introductions of the volunteers, students, and families, I basically ran the session as I would an in-person returnee lunch panel. I had a set of questions that we have used in the past and used these in between questions from students and parents. It was very flexible and we all had a fun and constructive conversation. I heard back from some families that the session was helpful in making the exchange process seem a bit more real and easier to understand practically how it would happen.
Erin also provided the following best practices for the Q&A session and sample questions below, some of which are from the existing AFS Pre-departure Orientation Leader’s Guide.
Pre-Departure Orientation Q&A Zoom Panel Best Practices
- Make sure they have access to a Zoom account. (Please click here to access information regarding free online meeting tools and additional best practices.)
- Closed Captions are highly recommended - we had a parent who was hard of hearing and it can be helpful even for people who can hear normally to keep track of the conversation. I used a free trial of Rev closed captions and it worked great. Perhaps there is another more official or permanent solution AFS can make available to local teams. (Please write to AskAFS@afsusa.org for assistance with setting up closed captioning on a AFS Zoom Account meeting.)
- Make sure you have a mix of returnees and volunteers - helpful for students to hear student perspectives, parents to hear perspectives of both hosting and sending parents. Also, good to have senior volunteers on the call who are more familiar with AFS policies
- Review the sample questions before hand and consider sharing them with your panelists in advance so that they have time to reflect on answers they may provide.
- Make sure volunteers are clear on who the AFS National contacts are that families can contact in case of more specific and official questions that they can't handle. Have that on hand to share (or remind them of) with them in the moment.
Sample Questions for Panelists:
- What was the biggest surprise when you first arrived?
- What was the funniest question someone asked you?
- What was the funniest thing someone said to you?
- What were the differences between your host family and natural family?
- What was the biggest difference between your host school and school in your home country?
- What did you call your family members?
- What were your favorite customs or traditions your host family did that you would like to continue?
- How did you handle communicating with your family and friends back home? How often did you call? What advice do you have for students and parents about communicating while abroad?
- Did you get homesick and how did you find ways to cope with feeling homesick?
- Can you describe an instance of miscommunication you experienced abroad?
- Was your host family more or less strict than your natural family? In what ways? How did this make you feel?
- What was the most challenging thing to adjust to?
- What was the easiest thing to adjust to?
- How did your goals and/or expectations for your/your student’s AFS experience play out in reality?
- What did you learn about yourself on this program?
- What are some items that you should have packed but didn't, and some items that you packed but should have left at home? General advice about packing.
- What gifts did you bring for your host family?
- What piece of advice would you give for students in their remaining time before going on program?
- What piece of advice do you have for parents in the remaining time before their child(ren) go on program?