The vast majority of our course providers have had to close their schools for classroom teaching over the last few months. As the situation eases around the world, we talk to two of our first course providers who have returned to delivering WSET courses in the classroom. Marshall Chen (MC) founder and educator Domaine, Chengdu, China, and Jules Lamon (JL), founder and educator, Oenovino, Paris, France talk us through their experiences.
Tell us something about your school
MC: Domaine was set up at the end of 2016 in Chengdu, China. Most of our students are from the drinks industry (mainly Baijiu and wine) but we also attract a few wine lovers from outside the trade.
JL: Oenovino is a wine school that specialises in WSET courses. Set in the heart of Paris, it offers WSET Levels 1-3 in Wine.
When did your school close for classroom courses?
MC: We had to close our school on 10th February just as it was about to reopen after the long break for the Chinese New Year. We were effectively closed for eight weeks.
JL: We had to close the school on 16th March as soon as the French Government announced we were going into lockdown. There couldn’t have been a worse time as we were right in the middle of a WSET course but couldn’t do anything about it!
How did you manage to engage with students while you were closed? What were the main challenges you faced?
MC: We were determined to keep our students engaged while we were not able to hold classroom courses. We looked at the different options and chose the Tiktok platform to show our short videos about wine which we broadcast every night. The main challenge for us was to keep students interested although they weren’t able to taste wine with us. It was important to interact with them rather than just sharing information.
JL: I decided to email students regularly updating them on the situation and offering them online solutions. The main challenge was being able to answer student queries when everything was so unpredictable due to the COVID-19 crisis. The next big challenge was to work out how we could reopen the school, once the government allowed, in a way that would be acceptable to all our students and educators.
When did you reopen your school? What measures have you taken to ensure everyone is safe?
MC: We reopened Domaine on 4th April. Covid-19 was controlled very well in Chengdu and the government encouraged businesses to reopen as soon as possible. We took lots of precautions to ensure everyone stayed safe. At first, students had to show a health code on their phone to get into the building. We had thermometers and hand santiser in the classroom and students and educators had to wear masks.
JL: I reopened Oenovino on 17th May, just for the group of students whose course had been interrupted in March. Luckily, all ten of them were happy to come back to finish the course and sit the examination. We followed the official government guidelines to ensure everyone was safe.
Now we have opened up for more courses, we still have to respect the mandatory one-metre distance between students which means less people in the classroom than previously. I am lucky that I have access to larger classrooms in my school which allow me to safely teach up to 20 people.
How is business since you’ve reopened?
MC: Our business has bounced back quickly. Course registrations are now back to pre-COVID levels and for some courses like Level 3 Award in Wines, it is even better. Post-pandemic, drinks trade professionals are looking to education to find new ways to promote and sell wine. It is good time for them to study and increase their drinks knowledge.
JL: Students were very happy to have the opportunity to come back to our school. They have been very understanding of the difficulties we have had in scheduling courses. The restriction of movement across borders and between regions in France complicated the situation but this has eased since the end of May. Life is slowly getting back to normal but, with the summer holidays approaching, I don’t see our enrolment levels returning to pre-COVID levels before September.
What have you learnt from lockdown?
MC: You have to keep an open mind to survive. Although most of our students prefer classroom learning, the crisis has encouraged people to interact online more than they used to. We are now using our online channels to interact with students and potential students outside of the classroom.
JL: An important lesson is that, if done properly, online courses are a great way of taking WSET qualifications. From a business point of view, the key to surviving a crisis like this is being able to react quickly and communication well with your partners and students. On a personal note, I have realised more than ever before that you should cherish and make time for your loved ones and relatives every day!
If your appetite for learning has been reignited by lockdown and you’re keen to get back to the classroom, why not take a WSET course? If local government guidelines in your area do not permit this yet then consider one of our online courses. Visit our Where to Study page to find the right course provider for you.
Main image provided by Wine Vision, Korea. We would like to thank Wine Vision for sharing this photograph.