In light of recent events, over the past few months, I’ve had many students reach out to me, asking for advice on what to do now that their study abroad plans have changed.
There is no simple answer to this, so here’s the truth: The possibility that you will study abroad at any time for the remainder of 2020 is unlikely.
In addition to mass cancellations of Maymester and Summer programs (a no-brainer), an increasing number of colleges and universities here in the United States and around the world are calling time early on all Fall/Autumn/Winter 2020 programs out of caution of a second wave of the virus….or end of the first wave (does anyone know what phase we are in at this point anyway?)
I would like to start by saying that my heart is broken for you. I know you’re upset, disappointed, and feel uneasy. Yes, there are more things important than life in student travel abroad, but as someone who has had this experience over and over, don’t let anyone shame you for what you feel.
As a study abroad advisor, my role is to not just help students plan their dream semester overseas, but in a time such as this, offer solutions and guidance to help fill the gap.
Enter Virtual Study Abroad.
I first heard about virtual study abroad in 2015. While at that time, I did not research it much, I knew that it would eventually be valuable in some way in the future for a segment of high school and college students.
As the overall cost of college rises year by year and financial markets shift due to uncertain circumstances, many families are searching for an alternative to traditional college abroad opportunities.
Similar to virtual internships, which have grown in popularity over the past decade, I respect students who choose this route. The fascination that a majority of collegiates now find themselves at a junction where they may have to take the road less traveled this year is bewitching to me and I’m ready to help you lean into this moment.
So before I give my thoughts, let’s further explore what virtual study abroad actually is and what it entails.
What is Virtual Study Abroad?
Virtual study abroad programs are designed to provide students with a complete experience of exploring international cultures and educational immersion from the privacy of their own homes. This can include online workshops that help students explore the history and current life of different countries, language courses, and photo essay analysis by location just to name a few examples.
Virtual study abroad programs take place on any platform, including Zoom, GoToMeeting, and a private platform provided by a college or university and they are usually a fraction of the cost of traditional study abroad experiences.
Education as a priority
The primary focus of virtual study abroad is to help bridge the gap between students who cannot afford (or in 2020 are not permitted to fly) to go overseas but want to complete credits that will count towards graduation that are either from a foreign university or serve as elective credits for courses that cannot be taken during the regular school year.
I want to emphasize that most virtual study abroad programs are strictly about education, which of course is the foundation of any study abroad program.
Based on my research, I also know that some organizations and schools are exploring ‘flexible or on-demand’ options this year. This would mean that students would be able to log in at their free will to review and complete assignments, but would still have deadlines each week. This would give students the chance to take their “regular classes” and then also build in study abroad components such as online seminars or online videos. Each college or private program is currently working on their own individual solution, so please know these vary based on your school and location in the world.