Resilience and Silver Linings of the Pandemic
Costa Rica’s higher education institutions’ internationalization process has
always been a model of different practices and approaches from public and private
universities. However, during the recent pandemic, both types of higher education
systems again adopted other academic and international partnership continuity
The COVID19 pandemic paralyzed all global mobility and posed severe
challenges to the educational system’s international advancement and stability. When
analyzing the international student presence in half of the Global Edu consortium
institutions, over two-thirds of the institutions had to respond quickly to student recalls
and the global crisis.
When asked if institutions had international students on campus:
Some member institutions faced the educational delays of not having robust
Learning Management Systems or faculty prepared for virtual environments. However,
the vast majority quickly transitioned to virtual instructional environments, ensuring
academic continuity, and eventually implementing hybrid modalities of participation at
the pandemic’s peak.
When asked if the institution was able to ensure academic continuity:
Amid the pandemic, each institution’s mission, values, self-image, program
strength, and organization leadership (Davies, 1992) proved essential for strength and
resilience. Institutions quickly found support from leadership to implement different
virtual meeting platforms, regular communication with students to support them in
academics and health issues, and active use of other LMS. Although borders were
closed and in-person mobility stopped, institutions found innovative ways to develop
and deliver international education experiences. New modalities democratized
opportunities and offered options to students who, in other circumstances, wouldn’t
have had the possibility to travel abroad due to travel restrictions, economic hardships,
contagion vulnerability, physical disabilities, or other limitations.
Albeit the global context challenges, one of the Silver Linings of the pandemic
was the quick disposition of international partners to engage in a high level of
international cooperation. As a result, many international partners were open to
implementing COIL projects, moving forward with grant writing, and even registering
students to complete international online courses offered by Costa Rican institutions.
Some institutions continued participating and presenting in virtual conferences in
education abroad, such as Diversity Abroad, The Forum on Education Abroad, and
Although most international offices at the Global Edu consortium institutions
suffered partial or total staff and faculty reductions, Costa Rica’s international
cooperation tradition for structuring educational projects enhanced the country’s
capacity to reactivate international mobility. Many member institutions focused on
program development, strategy, and partnership strengthening activities. Over two-
thirds of the membership continued to communicate with international partners actively,
and some were even able to establish new ones through projects, research, and new
course proposals. Global education initiatives in virtual conferences and events were
essential for establishing new partnerships and networking opportunities.
By Spring 2021, Costa Rica again received an on-campus cohort of international
Study Abroad students implementing the innovative educational hybrid modality trends
established to create continuity of education abroad.
The immediate steps taken by the government and the Costa Rica healthcare
system offset the pandemic’s disastrous impacts.
Once again, Costa Rica’s renowned tradition of establishing strong alliances was
critical in receiving international aid for vaccination and eventually being able to safely
attract global education mobility and even tourism during these difficult years.
Furthermore, the country’s context is relevant when analyzing internationalization
opportunities because all international activities and projects depend on stability,
accountability of management, and safety. Therefore, it is essential to consider the
scope of institutional internationalization as a comprehensive process that integrates all
aspects of a country’s educational system and socio-economic context. As a result, one
of the Global Edu member institutions, another private university, and two public
universities in Costa Rica received the 100K Strong Innovation Fund Grant to Build
Partnerships and Training Programs with U.S. institutions.
All Global Edu member institutions are private universities and therefore do not
receive government funds. All initiatives require efficient financial planning of
operations, and with a global lockdown, many international offices faced staff cuts and
closures. However, the pandemic forced us to think creatively to take advantage of the
technological resources available to keep education accessible and meaningful. More
importantly, it taught us to truly value collaboration (especially international
and hybrid modality courses to develop programs as an alternative option during the
global turmoiled. Administrative authorities supported participation in virtual education
abroad conferences to amplify and sustain partnerships.
Although we have once again confirmed students’ preference for the in-person,
whole immersion experience of education abroad, the efforts of adaptation and the
collaborative work developed have yielded valuable lessons in growth and innovation.
Dr. Alejandra Barahona
Davies, J. L. (1992). University strategies for internationalization in different institutional
and cultural settings: A conceptual framework. In C. B. Klasek (Ed.), Bridges to
the Future: Strategies for internationalizing higher education (pp. 177–190).
Association of International Education Administrators.