Photo: The Myanmar Flag (ISY).
During this time of COVID, counselors have struggled with how to effectively deliver counseling services virtually. Various counseling networks around the world have helped by sharing best practices, pointing to resources and providing support to individual counselors so that we can implement programs that will benefit our students and families. High school counselors have been working with university admissions counselors to develop and coordinate useful virtual visits for juniors and seniors. Strengthening our networks and contacts with individuals has seemed like a useful activity, especially during this time. However, few of us in the field have been very sure about how successful our efforts have been.
The Myanmar International School Counselors Association (MISCA) has been one of those networks that I have come to rely upon the most. Not a week has gone by where there isn’t a discussion on our Whatsapp group or someone shares a new resource they found or someone asks for advice about a situation.
But, recently, I have come to find out that the network has had a larger impact on our membership and the students we serve than I had previously thought.
Recently, within 12 hours of each other, I received feedback from two completely different sources which, I felt, were tied together by the support that MISCA provides. First, I hosted a meeting between a panel of current seniors and the junior class. One of the seniors related that he attended the University of Southern California presentation during the MISCA university fair this year. He kept his camera on, asked a few questions and thanked the presenter. The student is a senior and, once he started the application process, he had an issue. He reached out to the person he spoke to during the fair and once they got onto a video call and the USC person recognized him, they had an hour-long conversation and the representative told him everything was fine and encouraged him to finish applying. That student, along with his peers on the panel, emphasized to the juniors how important it is to attend university fairs and virtual meetings because they can make a difference if a connection is made.
Second, there was a family who applied to a prestigious boarding school. The boarding school's curriculum is British-based and they wanted to know what he should study in order to get ready for the math entrance test. I reached out to a couple counselors in the MISCA network that use the British curriculum to see if any of their math teachers would be willing to advise the family. The counselor at one of the schools responded that a teacher from her school was willing and a meeting was set up. I heard nothing from either the teacher nor the student since.
I just found out that the student was accepted and the family was appreciative of the teacher's willingness to help.
I was so happy that the MISCA network was working, so I emailed all the members to tell them the benefits I had experienced.
A few of the counselors replied. Two of them, in particular, stood out:
Counselor 1: “In a similar vein, I met one of the Canadian representatives through the MISCA fair last year. When I reached out, I got an immediate response to student concerns through the MISCA contact. The same student is applying to Calgary and had many questions. I reached out to the Asia representative, she met with us and has since met with him several times, including giving scholarship support. However, I still feel MISCA is strongest with the links and support between us (the counselors). The list of support we give each other is extraordinary.”
Counselor 2: “I am appreciative of this network all the time! I don't think I would have been able to do this role without it.”
Finally, I gave a presentation on Admissions at Highly Competitive Universities and invited counselors within the network and their students and families to attend. One student from another school attended and emailed afterwards: “Thank you so much for today's wonderful presentation. It really gave me a new perspective. Applying to a U.S. university involves a lot of things and this will definitely help me in my application process.” And his counselor followed up with, “Thank you for reaching out to the network and allowing our students to join!”
One counselor who couldn’t join the presentation asked for the materials. After I shared them with her, she replied, “Thank you for sending this to me! Being late coming into international counseling, this is icing on the cake, based on all that I have learned so far. I can't tell you how thankful I am for this organization in helping counselors.”
Staying connected professionally has been just as important for me as staying connected personally. And, during this COVID time, those two areas seem to be overlapping. But the fact that our connectedness can in turn empower the students we work with to pursue their personal and educational goals brings joy to all of us within this counseling/teaching field and keeps us doing this challenging work every day.
Mick Amundson-Geisel is High School Counselor at The International School Yangon and head of the Myanmar International School Counselors Association.