The Future of Study Abroad Is Zoom Calls
Pandemic or no, virtual study abroad programs are here to stay
It’s 9 a.m. in New York , and you log onto your study abroad program’s learning module to check in with your cohorts in Cape Town, South Africa. You agree to hop onto a call in half an hour — 3:30 p.m. local time in Cape Town — to touch base on a project you’re working on together. Your mission: create a mock-up of a small, high-end textile business with storefronts in both cities. Next week, you’ll present your part of the project — an e-commerce website — that you’ve created with your partner more than 7,800 miles away.
This is the new virtual study abroad program. Students will never set foot in one another’s country of residence. Instead, over a period of a few weeks to a full year, students in both locations will conduct research, collaborate on projects, listen to lectures, and participate in seminars entirely through the internet. This form of study abroad, which some in higher learning prefer to call “education abroad,” has been adopted at the University of Central Florida, New York University, the State University of New York, Arcadia University in Pennsylvania, and the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. The coronavirus has instilled a newfound urgency among educators to create such programs, but even once the pandemic is over, there will still be a need for thoughtful, accessible study abroad, rendering the creation of these programs even more critical.
Virtual study abroad challenges the notion that students actually need to go to another country to learn about its history, culture, economics, and language. Though it probably sounds a lot less fun than actually getting to hang out for a semester in Barcelona, a well-designed course can deliver many of the same benefits of a physical study abroad class (which educators call “mobile” courses) while also providing easier access for students who would otherwise not be able to go, such as lower income students, students with jobs, students who act as caretakers, and, of course, students currently trapped at home because of pandemic-induced global travel restrictions.
Virtual study abroad, in some form or another, has existed for over a decade. One of the most…