Your Master’s Degree Program is…Cancelled?!
“No Way! They can’t just cancel your master’s degree program because of the coronavirus!”
Gonzalo looked tense as he broke the news to me. Apparently, cancellation was a strong possibility.
Gonzalo is attending a 12-month master’s degree program here in Valencia. All schools are now closed in Spain due to the coronavirus, but I had viewed this as a temporary inconvenience. I assumed classes would be delivered online in the interim and would resume as normal after the quarantine.
With only 22 students in his program at the Valencia campus, it would be easy to set up online classes for a few weeks. Professors have been traveling weekly to Valencia from Madrid. This would be good cost savings for the school and the students would still learn the material. Win-win, right?
In the United States, we do tons of meetings and training sessions online. Because it’s normal there, it’s doable here, right?
But no, I was mistaken…
The local Spanish students pitched a fit and the cultural differences roared to the surface. They organized themselves to speak their mind and demand their rights. A heated exchange of group emails, letters, and committee meetings commenced.
The Spanish students don’t like online classes and feel they will not be getting their money’s worth. They want to cancel classes for now and add them on later, beyond the current October finish-date. Or they want to shut the program down for now and wait until next year.
This is NOT okay for us. We both quit our jobs in the United States and moved halfway across the world for this. Gonzalo also has a classmate from Peru and a couple more from Ecuador. For the local Spaniards who have jobs, homes, and families here, fine. Do what you want. But we have paid that tuition in full. Canceling the program in 2020 and coming back next year is not an option for Gonzalo.
Adding the missed classes in October, November, and December is also a bad idea. Why? Because he will be unemployed for that much longer! Also, looking for a job in the United States around the December and January holiday season could be a challenge.
Although they are studying logistics and supply chain management at a business school, these students were not thinking about time, money and efficiency. Neither were they concerned with simple, pragmatic solutions.
They have their own value system that is based on deeply emotional desires and opinions about how things should operate. The apple cart has been upset and their sense of how a school should deliver for them had been violated. What was (to me) a minor inconvenience was a really big deal to them!
Yes, we understand that online may not feel as personal or interactive. Yes, there are distractions at home. Yes, the professors had technology problems in the first 2 online sessions.
But give them some grace! We are living through a global pandemic and no one anticipated this. Everyone is in a big learning curve right now.
It’s human to acknowledge that the situation stinks and to be honest about our feelings of grief, anger, or whatever. But these are people who are training to be business leaders! Take it as an opportunity to practice some new maneuvers: adapt, pivot, and change. Collaborate. Say whatever needs to be said but do it in a respectful way.
After a couple of weeks of discussion and debate, we were enormously relieved that the school decided to continue with online classes through May. This is for longer than we had expected, but fine. Gonzalo is a grown-up and accepts the responsibility for showing up, paying attention, and doing his work.
The SAP software certification classes, however, are still up in the air. They are scheduled for June, July, and September, as August is their summer holiday. Will the SAP classes be delivered online or will that still happen in-person?
Gonzalo prefers software training with a live professor. If that is not offered, then what? Do we continue with it online? Or try for a partial tuition refund and use that money for live classes elsewhere?
Regardless of the outcome, our conversation has shifted to one of how to make lemonade. Where is the opportunity in this messy, uncertain situation?
We are quarantined in our apartment through April 26 so we will stay put for now. Hopefully, European quarantines will start to lift as we finish up April and head into May. If Gonzalo’s classes are to continue online anyway, perhaps we could make May a month of travel!
If air travel is slow to reopen, why not start road-tripping around Spain and Portugal? Our daughters’ classes are online at study.com and we could work with a Spanish teacher via Skype instead of going to a language academy every day.
If the SAP classes go virtual, then June and July could also be big travel months for us!
Safety is our first priority but assuming that we are safe…hmm…maybe having everything delivered online wouldn’t be so bad. It would allow us to be location independent and to explore more freely in the limited time we have remaining in Europe!
We have enough money in the Valencia account to pay for normal living expenses and some travel through July. More extensive travel is not in the budget due to the car purchase, language academy tuition, and return airfare I have already booked.
However, we will have some tax refund money coming our way. And the language school will be issuing a pro-rata refund for unused classes due to the quarantine. We will also be selling the car before we leave. Those three inflows could cover the extra travel expense for us and if we’re lucky, help cover the Airbnb expense before we move back into our house in Olathe.
When will we have the chance to travel like this again?
Probably not for a long time, so we should go for it!
Regardless of how Gonzalo’s classes are delivered between now and October, we are relieved that the program will continue. What started as a potential disaster has shifted to an opportunity for even greater benefit. With only 4 months left in Europe, we intend to make the most of it!