Our organisation is called Rockbrook International based in Dublin, Ireland.
Just to give you some background first. We are a private secondary school in Dublin with an international department that organises high school programmes for foreign students. We have full year and term programmes for schoolchildren from 10 to 17 years old. We have a network of 20+ secondary schools in Dublin who take our international students throughout the year. As our school is only for boys we need girls and mixed schools on board to give variety and diversity to our programme.
As of today we only have one student remaining in Dublin from the 125 international students that were enrolled this term. We never thought one month ago that this would be the outcome. We started becoming aware of the seriousness of the coronavirus about mid-February, especially when Italy started to register its first cases. From then on every week the situation became more and more worrying as the virus spread slowly to other parts of Europe. Once sporting events like the rugby six nations started cancelling fixtures involving Italy then we really started to worry. However at that time there was still no word of school closures so we were still quite hopeful everything would be ok. Then other sports events started to suspend activity and flights to Italy were prohibited. Then some countries started closing their borders and it really started to hit home. The first time we were directly affected by the virus was when the principal of our school announced that they were no longer accepting any incoming international students from countries with high numbers of coronavirus cases. Then word spread about the imminent closure of all schools and a possible lockdown and that was when the real panic set in for us.
We had 125 students from Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, El Salvador, Argentina and Hong Kong, They were a mix of groups of short term stays and full year students. Once the government announced the closure of schools all our groups began frantically rebooking flights to go home. This was very complicated for some clients due to flight restrictions and especially so when the US closed its borders with Europe. Every day brought new challenges as the situation rapidly escalated as governments brought in new and more restrictive measures to tackle the spread. We were constantly on the phone to worried parents and group coordinators trying to rearrange early departures. Flights were being booked late at night for departures early the next morning. It was chaotic. Parents and coordinators were booking the earliest flights that were available as the risk of being stranded in Dublin grew and grew.
One poor group from El Salvador were left in a terrible quandary. If they stayed in Dublin there was a risk they might not be able to return home for months. If they left at that moment they would have to spend a period of 30 days in quarantine on arrival in their country. They chose the latter and are still stuck in an airport hotel under quarantine. What an unbelievable outcome when you think that just two weeks previous they were leaving El Salvador, full of hope and excitement about the prospect of coming to Ireland. Back then nobody could have predicted how things would turn out.
Over that period of 4-5 days we repatriated 125 students to countries all around the world. Our staff were in the airport several times a day trying to get everyone safely home. Thanks to the great work of our team, our host families and our clients succeeded. It was a very bitter sweet moment but we knew it was for the best. There would have been nothing for them to do here, only stay at home with their host families. In a time like this children should be at home with their real families. We had to accept the strange reality of having no more students to look after and the uncertainty the crisis would bring to the future of our business. After Easter (3rd term) all the students that were scheduled to come have cancelled. We have had summer camps cancelled too. We are anxious that September will be affected too but we are lucky that nobody has cancelled, yet. Everyone is still waiting to see how this all pans out over the summer. We have our fingers tightly crossed.
Our full year students are kept busy doing online lessons with their Irish teachers and this is great as it brings continuity and keeps them busy. The Irish secondary schools are doing a great job keeping the classes going online. I’ve heard the teachers are working harder than ever! We are keeping in touch with all our clients and agents to make sure everyone is updated and to let them know we will be ready to restart the programme as soon as the restrictions are lifted. We have been lucky that we have managed to keep our staff together, even if we are all stuck at home with limited work to do. Like everyone else we are going through a difficult period but this will pass and things will get back to normal, eventually. Our main worry is that parents might not feel confident sending their children abroad to learn English for some time. We worry how long it will take them to overcome those fears. Hopefully sooner rather than later but only time will tell. We have to remain hopeful for now.
Senior Student Coordinator and Strategist.