International Travel via a Virtual Experience: Lessons Learned from a Virtual International Exchange Program

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Brief Abstract

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.

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My background is made up of a variety of experiences, each one adding to my knowledge, skills, and abilities in the kinesiology field. I have been teaching in higher education since 2006, classes ranging from structural kinesiology to nutrition to fitness testing and interpretation. I love teaching because: 1) I get to share my passion for an awesome field; 2) I get to continuously learn myself because it is a field that is ever-changing. I believe that to be a good instructor, I must keep up with the trends; And, probably most importantly, 3) helping students discover how this field can fit into their lives- professional or personal- is so fulfilling. To see that what you teach is directly affecting others is a great experience. I have also worked as a Program Coordinator for an exercise program for special populations, a Health Coach, a Personal Trainer, a Health Screening Technician, and a Cardiac Rehab Technician. All these have helped me 'practice what I preach', which I believe is vital to teaching in this field. Kinesiology is a hands-on field and to effectively share your knowledge with others, you have to experience it. I moved into the online teaching realm in 2011 and have been there with IUPUI ever since. It has been, and continues to be, an interesting journey, as new technologies and ways to connect with my students have arisen. The number one piece of advice I would have for someone teaching online for the first time: Start over. Rethink your classes. Moving from the physical classroom to the virtual classroom takes time, patience, an understanding from the student's viewpoint, and, most of all, passion for teaching. Personally, I have two beautiful children who mean the world to me and who are very much learning what a healthy lifestyle is! I love to run and do races, which my children are beginning to get into as well. Showing them the fun of exercise and nutrition is so key to them becoming healthy adults!

Extended Abstract


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.