AUP graduation ceremony at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.

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Supporting Self-Isolating Students with the Paris Pods Scheme

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Social distancing is hard enough when you’re at home in a country you know well and of which you speak the language; for AUP students kept indoors under France’s restricted movement measures, it can be even tougher. As soon as the French confinement period began, AUP made every effort to reach out to students stuck in Paris to ensure they could continue studying and that they had the support services they needed to take care of their physical and mental well-being.  

AUP’s solution is the Paris Pods scheme. Run by generous staff volunteers from across the University, the pods bring together students from the same class year into groups of roughly 15. Each pod is assigned a staff mentor, who meets with them virtually at least once a week to pass on information from the University and to provide support as they adapt to self-isolation. In addition, the mentor is available during the week to respond to students privately, answering any questions they may have and making sure they are practicing good self-care during the confinement period. 

“One of the best things about AUP is its sense of community and knowing there’s always someone to turn to in an emergency,” says Christopher Grinbergs, who manages the Paris Pods scheme. “In these extraordinary times, we’ve tried to recreate that online.” The pod mentors regularly share information with students about the health and wellness resources provided by the University and available remotely: this includes the guidance counselors, who are available for online counselling appointments, and the Health Office, which is supporting any students who exhibit potential symptoms of Covid-19 or who have other health issues.  

There is also a social aspect to the pods. "It's more important than ever during this period of confinement to make time to connect with others,” explains Kevin Fore, AUP’s Dean of Student Development. “The Paris Pods are about building community in new ways, sharing stories and ensuring that everyone has a chance to be heard and supported." Students are encouraged to share tips for coping with isolation among each other through the online groups that have been established in the Microsoft Teams software, which is also being used for temporary remote learning.  

Some pods have gone even further, setting up WhatsApp groups to chat outside of office hours and organizing social events such as digital apéros. Mentors are encouraged to share crowdsourced resources, such as a list of virtual museum tours or free online exercise sessions, with their pods, and students help further by contributing their own suggestions. Mentors attend a videoconference meeting once a week to exchange best practices and brush up on the latest services on offer. 

The pods scheme will remain in place for at least the length of confinement in France, ensuring that no global explorer is left behind during such a difficult time. “Paris pods will continue to play this role, so AUP maintains and sustains its community,” comments Grinbergs. Just as temporary remote learning protocols supplement the on-campus classes from before the confinement period began, the pods scheme nourishes further the already close-knit nature of our community.