Mandy Bartell

International Spotlights: Mandy Bartell

It’s been a long, strange trip for Mandy Bartell.

Last January, the coordinator for Brenau’s Anhui Normal University partnership had just begun what was supposed to be a three-week visit to the Gainesville campus when officials in China — Bartell’s home since 2002 — announced the discovery of a new coronavirus.

With so many uncertainties surrounding the emerging virus, Bartell and her husband decided it would be safer for Bartell to remain at Brenau and monitor the situation. “We kept saying ‘just wait,’ because we didn’t know the full situation,” Bartell says. “Then, suddenly, the tables completely turned.”

With the arrival of COVID in the U.S. and rigid international travel restrictions, weeks soon turned into months. Despite being separated from her husband and home, the ever-optimistic Bartell says she “tried to make the best of things.”

“Fortunately, I’m a pretty positive person,” says Bartell, who spent this past Christmas with her family in Ohio. “Though I couldn’t be with my husband, I got to see my family and help with things like taking my stepmom to a doctor’s appointment or helping my dad with tech stuff he’s not sure how to do.”

Always the helper, Bartell describes her role at Brenau as “bridging the gap.” During a typical year, she says she would be in China teaching second-year students in the partnership program and preparing them for their transition to Brenau. That includes assisting with admissions and housing applications, administering language tests and ensuring vaccines and health forms are in order.

“I try to make it easier for when they come here so there’s not as much of a shock,” Bartell says.

With Chinese students learning remotely, Bartell continues to support them virtually by working with the Writing Center and promoting other resources such as the Learning Center, library, counseling services and financial aid. She also recently conducted focus groups for new juniors in the partnership — and while the purpose was to evaluate and improve students’ online learning experience, it also led to an amusing request.

“I was wearing a hat with Christmas lights on it that I bought at the Dollar Tree, and one of the students said, ‘Mandy, can you please give us a virtual tour of the Dollar Tree,” Bartell recalls. “I said absolutely, because the Chinese students would be in a similar situation to me. They’re not going to have a car, and the Dollar Tree is not that far away from campus.”

“I thought that was really, really fun.”

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