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Challenges in the Post-WTC World

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ASPECT North America leaders were here on September 11

ASPECT North America is based in Santa Barbara, Calif., so it was an unusual coincidence that the events of September 11th found ASPECT's executive vice-president Ann Metropoulis and Eastern region vice-president Amy Houston both at the Manhattan College campus, here for budget meetings with ASPECT/Manhattan College's school director Anna Kolasinska-Holden.

The presence of these key leaders made it easier to coordinate the massive communications challenge faced by our school that day-to account for every student and intern, and relay information regarding their welfare to anxious families in their home countries.

ASPECT internship coordinator Regina Joyce (a Manhattan College alumnus) held her breath with each call to host companies where our students do their internships. By the end of the day Tuesday, there were still a handful of interns and students not yet accounted for, so student services coordinator David Andersen and housing coordinator Charles Fernando pulled an all-nighter in ASPECT's De La Salle offices, monitoring the phones for any new word.

At 10:15 a.m. Wednesday morning, contact was finally established via phone with the last intern left on the list. Several ASPECT interns narrowly missed being in World Trade Center offices at the time of the disaster.

ASPECT faculty demonstrates courage and calm

The day of the attack on the World Trade Center, classes continued as normal at ASPECT. About 11:00, teachers read a brief bulletin to their students about what had happened, and then proceeded with their lessons. At the 12:10 lunch break, many ASPECT students joined Manhattan College students outside at the prayer vigil. During the lunch hour that day, the ASPECT computer lab was also a busy place, with students alternately e-mailing friends and family, and checking Web sites for information about what had occurred.

There was a sense of calm on the 4th Floor of De La Salle, as teachers prepared classes and students chatted in the hallways; the normal routine helped everyone keep focused while waiting on information about transportation, etc…

Wednesday classes were cancelled, but students came anyway

ASPECT/Manhattan College school director Anna Kolasinska-Holden cancelled classes for Wednesday, September 12th. Administrative staff came in and were available to counsel students, who arrived in huge numbers, perhaps preferring to spend the day in a familiar place. The computer room was opened for students to continue taking care of their e-mail needs. A video player was set up in one classroom, where students spent the morning watching movies. In another room, there were easy readers and newspapers, so that students who wanted to read quietly could do so. Some students asked to listen to news about the ongoing events, so a radio was set up in yet another classroom. In the afternoon, a group of students walked over to Wave Hill.

Messages of solidarity from all over the world

By Wednesday afternoon, floods of e-mail messages had arrived from former students and ASPECT associates all over the world, expressing their grief and solidarity. "God bless you all, God bless liberty, God bless America," concluded a statement from Vincent Bourdonneau, a former student in France. "I know it's a terrible moment in your lives," wrote Jose Izaguirre from Peru, "but I also know that American people never give up and that you are bigger than your problems." The marketing manager at HIT International Education in Turkey, Ms. Arzu Guven, wrote, "Our hearts are with the whole American nation."

ASPECT International Language Academies offered easy refunds

Understandably, there were some families abroad and some of their children at our school whose only desire was to reunite in their home countries, especially in the midst of the sense of crisis that existed worldwide that first week or so. ASPECT International Language Academies decided to offer very generous refunds to any student who felt strongly he or she needed to return home, so that there would be no financial barrier or disincentive to canceling their course. Only five students at ASPECT/Manhattan College availed themselves of this option.

Bookings initially take a hit, but numbers holding steady in October

Worldwide concern about the safety of travel to America has impacted ASPECT North America, and reduced the numbers of new students arriving in the weeks since the World Trade Center attack. However, indications are that those numbers are steadying, and cautious optimism reigns.