A global crisis and an international response

The University of Exeter is a truly international organisation, with alumni groups spanning the globe. We have more than 25,000 international alumni, many of whom meet to renew friendships, take part in career networking events and strengthen ties with the University. This year with the COVID-19 pandemic creating challenging circumstances across the world, the global University of Exeter alumni community has pulled together to take events online, keep connected virtually and support current students at Exeter through student recruitment and employability events, and much more. We recently caught up with a few international alumni who have been involved in providing this support to find out what their experiences of volunteering during the pandemic have been like, why they got involved, and their advice to current students.

Ashutosh Anil Bhaskar, (MSc Marketing, 2017) India group committee member, spoke at an offer holder event in summer 2020

“My experience as a postgraduate student at the University of Exeter moulded me into who I am today. As such, being able to help other prospective students see how enriching and valuable the Exeter experience can be, motivates me to support them. I have been a part of a few events and the experience has been fabulous!

“Meeting virtually and interacting with prospective students during the COVID-19 pandemic to give them a first-hand view of my experience at university is something I enjoy doing. Being a strong advocate for the University of Exeter, helping these students make the right choice and easing the decision-making process is very rewarding. 

"I definitely feel that if your time at the university has had a positive impact in your life, then it only makes sense to spread this positivity by helping others out. The volunteer activities require very minimal time, and everything is very well organised. This is just one of the many ways of showing gratitude to the academic foundation that we were built on at Exeter.

“I would say the global alumni community is what you make of it. Networking with people all over the world from different industries and backgrounds with a unifying base of being an alumnus of the University of Exeter is very powerful. The Indian alumni community tries to stay active and have frequent conversations via groups on mobile/social media, and this has been a great asset during the pandemic.”

Richard McColl (French and Spanish, 2000), alumni country contact for Colombia, spoke on the Alumni Business Podcast about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting businesses

“I’m a hotelier, journalist and author based in Colombia, as well as an Exeter alumni ambassador in Colombia for many years. I spoke to the Alumni Business podcast from the University of Exeter Business School back in April 2020 about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting my businesses as well as some insights into the socio-economic impacts across the region.

“I got involved with the podcast as I believe it's always good to talk about one's experiences and share knowledge - hopefully it might be of some use to someone else. Also, for me, during this challenging time it was quite cathartic.

“Since being interviewed for the podcast the situation in Colombia is quite precarious and we experienced a very long period of lockdown in the region. Numbers of infected have reached 2.2 million and there have been more than 56,000 deaths. We are living from week to week with total uncertainty of how things are going to pan out. My son only goes to school one or two days a week due to protocols in place, and those of us with small businesses are suffering immensely.

"Under ‘normal’ circumstances lots of alumni activity takes place in Colombia which I really enjoy being part of. Usually, we receive a visit or two from the MBA and some other Exeter affiliated academics a couple of times a year. It's always good to get together with other Exeter alumni as we are all involved in some fascinating fields here. I’ve enjoyed being able to share my insights virtually during the pandemic but very much look forward to when we can meet in person again.”

If you missed the Richard’s podcast appearance you can catch up on his episode and the whole series online.

Chris Tang (Law, 1996), Chair of the Exeter Hong Kong Alumni Group (EHKAG) group, organised and spoke at various Hong Kong employability events in Summer 2020

“The COVID-19 pandemic meant that all events took place online and the first of our virtual events organised by the Exeter Hong Kong Alumni Group (EHKAG), which I chair, took place on Wednesday 24 June 2020.

"The event featured three speakers, myself, Managing Director at Star Anise, Carman Lau (BA Business and Management 2008) Head of Talent Acquisition at Jardine Matheson Limited and Florence Fung (BA Mathematics with Accounting 2013 and MSc Financial Analysis and Fund Management 2014) Associate Wealth Management Director at AIA International Limited, who all shared their career stories in an informal ‘fireside chat’ format, then took questions from the audience of students and alumni located around the globe.

"I hosted the event and asked the panellists to share their tips for career success, which you can read online.

“When I moved to Hong Kong in 2010 to set up my own business, I was really impressed with the quality of events in Hong Kong organised by the alumni. In each year that I've lived in the city, the alumni community has grown from strength to strength. Simply, we have an outstanding group of talented alumni living and working in Hong Kong. Many of the more senior professionals are at the top of their game as partners in major international law and accounting firms, senior executives in multi-national companies and financial institutions, as well as start-up entrepreneurs and successful business owners in their own right. Recent Exeter graduates-turned-young-professionals consistently show an insatiable hunger to learn more and to network with one another, and the more experienced alumni gladly give up their time to pass on their experiences and provide great careers advice to junior alumni members.

“We could not hold the events that we run without the incredible support of the international alumni office. They have been our rock as well as the engine to all our initiatives. The 'icing on the cake' is having our senior staff from the University visit us from time to time to provide updates about the University and how Exeter continues to break records. All these factors combine to provide a highly engaged and engaging alumni which is proud to be a part of the University of Exeter legacy.”

Sanjana Chopra, (BSc Marketing and Management, 2014), India group committee member, spoke with prospective students during summer 2020

“The University has given me enriching experiences and valuable lessons and if I can help in any way, to support the University and the students who are applying or currently studying, I'm happy to do so. The pre-departure and virtual "open day" events were informative. I got a chance to not only interact with the University staff at the events and learn about the changes at University itself, but also reminisce and share about my days as a student while answering the questions the students had about Exeter. The admissions officers and the India team were supportive too and made sure I was well prepared and knew what to expect from such events. 

“For me, volunteering is my way of showing my gratitude for the University. I had the best time and gained so much more than just academic knowledge at Exeter; if I can volunteer and help others gain a University of Exeter experience or help the University in any way, I'd gladly do so a million times. I would say to my fellow alumni, if you are interested in volunteering, go for it!

"It is the best thing you can do. You are giving back to the institution that has contributed tremendously to where you are today and that is the best feeling ever. Helping the younger generation pave their way in the world and helping University with it is an enriching opportunity.

"The global alumni community is a valuable network of individuals organising events in India and worldwide too, with the aim of connecting us and helping us discuss the hurdles we may be facing during the lockdown and how we are coping with it. The Indian Exeter Alumni Association has taken initiatives of organising virtual talks and events that have helped us all during the pandemic. Not only are we interacting with alumni based all over the country at once for the first time, but also learning about what each one is doing during the pandemic from an employability point of view. This experience has been unique to say the least.”

Patrick Wilken (MSc International Management, 2016), Country Contact for Canada (Toronto), helped organise an Americas speed-networking event in November 2020

Patrick and his wife, fellow alum, Audrey (MBA, 2016)

“The Americas speed networking event in November 2020 created an opportunity to meet with alumni from across the continent. Conversations during the one to one networking opened my perspective to the breadth of career opportunities available to Exeter graduates with a spirit of adventure. A huge thank you to the University staff, who were immensely helpful in setting up the alumni networking event.  

“Developing the alumni network in North America will continue to open opportunities. Success rests on our ability to build, cultivate, and leverage our network. The online events held during the pandemic present the opportunity to engage with the alumni network to maintain a strong foundation for success and stay connected.

“Another engagement which the University of Exeter offers is for alumni to participate in the Career Mentoring Scheme. As the Latin proverb goes, ‘I teach, therefore I learn.’ The program gives all alumni access to continue growing while aiding current University students and other recent alumni. My experience of mentoring a third-year student with insights from the start-up industry and showing a PhD. student how to start pitching a business, and getting their app built has been enriching. There is a great deal of satisfaction in giving back through the alumni mentoring network and for me it is an opportunity to be a part of a future alumni's story.”

Chaoqun Luo, (MSc Finance and Investment, 2018) Exeter China Alumni Association (ECAA) volunteer spoke with prospective students during summer 2020

“The University of Exeter inspired me to grow and develop. I wanted to do something to return so when I had the opportunity to get involved with virtual support during the pandemic I jumped at the opportunity. I am familiar with event organisation and I worked as a key facilitator for many events during my undergraduate studies.

“I consider the global alumni community my family. The experience of volunteering has been a great one for me personally, as I’ve been able to meet many interesting and inspiring alumni around the world, and make great friends through the events I’ve been involved in. Many outstanding members are connected together via these networks and we are quite close to each other when we have the role of being a volunteer and member of the ECAA (Exeter China Alumni Association). During the outbreak of COVID-19, I have kept in touch with the Exeter alumni community in China, which has been a great support.

"I also became a team leader for an online career-sharing event to support the University and help graduates who seeking jobs.

"During the event, I shared details of my experience studying at the University and information on my own career as well as suggestions about job hunting. I gained lots of enjoyment as well as a sense of achievement through the event I was involved in back in June and I will be glad that if I can help other prospective students or alumni even just a little bit.

“COVID-19 has been a hugely unexpected and challenging epidemic for both China and the world, however now most places in China are gradually back to normal life. The University of Exeter and the alumni community in China will also be organising alumni employability events and other activities to support graduates in finding jobs and building connections. Please keep an eye on the recent postings via WeChat Official Accounts.

“To those alumni interested in volunteering I’d say definitely get involved and welcome to the big family! Everyone in the alumni community is very kind and if you offer your help to others, you will get great deal out of it too. If you want to find out more about volunteering for the ECAA, you can follow the ECAA LinkedIn, Weibo, and WeChat Official Accounts.”

You can read more about recent events such as the ECAA online career event, which took place in July, and the Hong Kong Alumni Industry Insights virtual event held in June, online. You can also find out more about our International Alumni networks and Country Contacts online, and if you would like to organise an event or volunteer in your area please contact Jane Harding (International Alumni Officer).