International Travel via a Virtual Experience: Lessons Learned from a Virtual International Exchange Program
COVID-19 put a hard stop to study abroad and exchange programs, causing further isolation and fewer academic opportunities for students. To provide the enriching experience of international travel when social distancing is the norm, learn how to implement a virtual international exchange program in your course, no matter the subject.
The Spring 2020 semester was an unprecedented one full of unknowns, life upheavals, and anxiety. This was both in our students’ personal and academic lives. While we often focus on the effect the quick change of the courses from in-person to online had on our students, one area that was enormously affected was study abroad courses and opportunities for our students. Study abroad has a major emphasis at many schools, as it is often encouraged that students gain international experience at some point in their academic careers. International travel is an eye-opening, enriching, enlightening experience and one that can academically, professionally, and personally set students apart. However, due to the cancellation of in-person classes and international travel, and countries closing their borders, it seemed as if any chance to experience an international experience had been dashed. Not only were the students suffering from isolation in their respective countries, but they were also closed off from the rest of the world.
The project was set up via CourseNetworking, a sort of virtual café that allowed the students to participate in two online discussions about how where we live, our culture, our government, and our policies affect our eating and nutrition. Through these discussions, they ‘met’ international students, while gaining an insight into their eating habits, their governmental food regulations, and their culture.
By providing the students with this experience, the students were able to learn about another country’s way of life, allowed them to find a connection with other students in this unprecedented time, and gave them an experience they might not have a chance to otherwise experience during their time at college.
While the fall was the inaugural run of this project, long-term the plan is to implement this year-round with the hope that in the future there will be an actual study abroad experience. In this presentation, lessons learned and experiences gained during the virtual international program implemented in a Fall 2020 course will be shared with the participants, as well as student feedback from both institutions.