Many have experienced firsthand the monumental shift that has taken place over the past year as work and education have transitioned from in-person to a remote environment. Educators and students have developed creative and innovative solutions to improve educational experiences in this era of virtual learning, especially in the areas of study abroad and international education. The Global Engagement Office at Plymouth State University (GEO) has partnered with universities abroad and international organizations to offer students a variety of virtual international experiences that include both college-level and language courses, internships, and cultural workshops.
These experiences have become increasingly popular over the past year. The Forum on Education Abroad recently conducted a survey of 300 US institutions and found that more than half began offering new virtual programming in 2020. Seven of Plymouth State’s thirteen international partners have developed new online programming specifically for international students, and almost all are offered for academic credit —and many are quite affordable.
Japan’s Kansai Gaidai University allows students to take 3–6 credits a semester for a small registration fee. This program includes a few dozen course offerings as well as intercultural social events. Kaitlyn Robicheau-Hall ’22 is among the students who have taken advantage of this opportunity over the past year and has experienced both culture and language courses. She has been impressed by the quality of the instruction and has loved her professors. Her favorite course has been Japanese Cultural History: Ancient and Medieval. She comments, “Even though the school is across the world, you always have access to your teachers.” She has also appreciated how involved her Japanese classmates have been in developing a virtual, global community for international students.
Students can now take language courses not offered at PSU, such as Japanese, Arabic, or Korean. They can take these language courses online over the summer or during the semester while taking a full course load at PSU. Josh Lekas ’22 enrolled in a Spanish language course at Cuenca University in Quito, Ecuador. He decided to take a Spanish course online because he had the opportunity to pair it with cultural workshops and intercultural exchange sessions through Kaya Responsible Travel. This remote experience was perfect for him because he plays baseball at PSU during the spring and could not travel abroad for the whole semester. Lekas is using this experience to prepare for future study in South America.
Virtual international programs can also be used to gain work experience. Isabel Layne ’21 is completing an internship with a Vietnamese NGO focused on creating LGBTQ+ rights educational materials. Her internship, administered by Kaya Responsible Travel, is set over a 15-week period with about 225 contact hours and eight cultural workshops with Vietnamese students. Although she regularly meets with her site supervisor and program mentor, the work itself has largely been flexible and independent, which has helped improve her self-management and critical thinking skills. Layne believes, “Internships that provide students with remote working experience in international settings provide a key feature of what the job market is looking for in the twenty-first century.”
The Institute for International Education agrees with Layne, highlighting the potential of remote global internships in assisting students in skill development and overall career readiness.
Remote global internships are affordable ways to prepare students for the global workforce. Students also have the choice of completing these virtual internships during the semester in conjunction with their PSU courses, or during the summer months.
The common themes of flexibility and affordability across virtual international programming makes it accessible to almost everyone who wants an international education. “GEO has been looking for creative ways to increase participation in global experiences and improve exposure to international education,” says Study Abroad Advisor Ian Lim-Bonner. “It has been wonderful to see these students experience the world even when travel is grounded, but there is much more potential. GEO is ready to expand these virtual offerings across campus and in our classrooms to help better prepare students for today’s global, remote world.”