In a typical year, American colleges send tens of thousands of students overseas – 347,099 in the 2018-19 academic year to be precise – to learn about other countries and cultures.
Covid-19 stopped the trip and closed the borders. Instead of expanding their horizons, the coronavirus has shrunk the worlds of many students to close pods of friends and family.
Although the pandemic affected almost every aspect of studying and everyday life, its effects on education abroad were existential: What does studying abroad mean without going abroad?
With vaccines on the horizon, many universities and educational providers abroad are wrestling over how to get programs up and running. Of particular importance is the introduction of safety protocols to reassure hideous students and parents and to protect themselves from new variants of Covid and future outbreaks of other infectious diseases.
"Our job is planning, contingency planning, and contingency planning," said Holly Hudson, executive director of Education Abroad at Texas A&M University at College Station.
However, the past year without studying abroad also resulted in a reckoning, as the pandemic break made many professionals think about their future. If international studies are critical to college education in the 21st century, as advocates argue, to equip graduates for a global and multicultural workplace, is it okay for only a small fraction of students to attend? According to the Institute of International Education, it is only 2 percent of all students and 16 percent of those who earn a bachelor's degree abroad.
Some have begun to question the nature of studying abroad: is it necessary to travel to another country or continent to gain cross-cultural insights and understanding? Could students receive similar educational benefits when interacting with different communities in their local area? And now that we're all so used to learning through Zoom, you can virtually connect classrooms around the world and give students a global experience.
"The value of overseas education has never been to get on a plane to get from point A to point B," said Andrew J. Gordon, president and founder of the Diversity Abroad Network. "Our value lies in the global exchange of knowledge."
After Covid-19, there might not just be a restart to study abroad. The pandemic could cause a reset.
Last year's experience raised a number of pressing questions: Will students feel like going abroad after so many months? Or will a new global risk detection keep them close to home?
Study abroad offices report a need to catch up. Even during the height of the pandemic, applications to ISEP, a study abroad and exchange provider, were 80 percent of the normal rate despite no programs running, said John Lucas, the organization's president.
Grace A. Murray, a junior at the University of Oregon, is one of the students on the pipeline. Murray, a first generation student, has wanted to do a summer journalist program in London since she found out about it during her freshman orientation. "I may sound like a fool, but I'm fascinated by British culture," she said.
Murray was scheduled to study abroad in the summer of 2020 and struggled to find an internship when Covid canceled their plans. She hopes to go this summer. "If you live in a tiny apartment with roommates attending online school, studying abroad was the light at the end of the tunnel," she said.
Bayley Wivell had also long planned to go overseas and build her entire academic schedule at Georgetown University around a semester in Singapore. But she will miss this opportunity and spend her senior year in Washington, DC.
"I lost a lot of time in Georgetown and I want to share that with my friends," she said. "I will be able to travel in the future, but I will no longer be a college student in Georgetown."
Wivell hopes to study abroad during graduate school, maybe even for a full degree. However, educators fear that after a year of distance learning, students will have to choose what to fit into a shortened college experience and that studying abroad could topple the list of priorities. A survey Of 800 students from College Finance, a platform that provides college lending resources, six in ten students found they would be willing to skip studying abroad for on-campus experience. This could reinforce the idea that it is a margin of discretion or an option and not something that is central to a college education.
Instead, Barroso Delarosa is spending this spring in Tokyo as one of 35 students studying abroad on the temple's campus there. Despite being quarantined for two weeks upon arrival, life in Japan, where Covid infections have been low, feels normal, especially when compared to the lockdowns at home in suburban Philadelphia. "It is just as I always imagined it to be," she said of her experience abroad.
Temple's other overseas campus in Rome, which has about 70 students enrolled, was not so lucky. The classes there had to go online in mid-March after the number of on-site cases began to rise. (The restrictions are due to be lifted on Monday.)
Emilia Zankina, Dean of Temple Rome, said the administrators had prepared for this undesirable scenario and made sure that all courses could be offered in person and online in the event of bans or positive Covid tests among students.
As a rare overseas educational program run during the pandemic, Temple offers a potential template for what other colleges and providers might experience if they reopen. Zankina and her staff had to comply with two safety regulations, American and Italian, and find new apartments after old apartment buildings lacked space for social distancing and quarantine. Some challenges were unexpected – demand for mental health services has skyrocketed, which Zankina attributes to the remaining trauma of the pandemic.
"We had to be flexible," she said. "It's an experiment in the making."
Post-pandemic safety and liability issues could receive renewed attention, with students and families paying special attention to protocols used to respond to infectious diseases and even Covid itself, due to the lack of knowledge about the duration and effectiveness of vaccines and the possibility of future surges or virus mutations.
Zankina said the support and expertise from the main Temple campus in Philadelphia was vital. Your team meets weekly with administrators from the international area, risk management and other offices.
After the pandemic, students and college administrators may prefer traditional college or provider programs like Temple & # 39; s or direct exchanges with partner universities as they offer access to better infrastructure. This would be a departure from the recent trend towards short term travel, which is typically led by individual faculty members. Two-thirds of students went abroad for a maximum of eight weeks in 2018-19, the Institute of International Education reported.
Covid could also affect where students go. For one, some countries may be reluctant to accept Americans as the US is handling the pandemic poorly. In many countries vaccination certificates or other proof of vaccination are required.
Colleges could also ban some targets due to liability risks related to Covid, and students could refuse to visit places with persistent infections or where vaccines are not widely available.
Hudson of Texas A&M said she was cautious in advising students to go to countries where they could put additional taxes on health systems that are already taxed. "If they were an extra burden," she said, "would that be ethical of us?"
Given the inequalities in the distribution of vaccines around the world, the pandemic could reinforce existing student preferences for European countries – the six most popular destinations for American students are in Western Europe – and outside of places like Africa and South America, said Melissa Torres, president of the forum on Education Abroad, an association of American and foreign universities and independent study programs abroad. At the same time, Torres said safety concerns could also lure students to places like South Korea and Taiwan, which have received high grades for their coronavirus response.
Low-income and first-generation students may also study abroad less often, hampered by cost, work commitments, or a feeling that an international experience is not for them. "We will be closely monitoring more fragile populations," says Heather H. Ward, Assistant Dean of Study Abroad and International Exchanges at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, "to make sure this doesn't lead to other issues."
Another event last year, the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the police murder of George Floyd, a Minneapolis black man, may draw new attention to the struggle abroad with diversity.
Keshia Abraham, a counselor focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion in international education, said she was encouraged by the open discussion and recognition that the field needs to do better. There are many steps colleges and providers can take, Abraham said, including hiring more program directors from different racial and ethnic backgrounds and including explicit discussions about diversity and identity in orientation activities before students go overseas.
Talks about change have happened before, but now there's widespread recognition that studying abroad has to do better, she said. "I think we're sitting at the table now and eating the same food."
"I feel like we're on the brink of something really great," she added, "if we can hold on to the momentum."
Another shift in dynamics could be bringing students global experiences closer to where they live. For some students this could mean:study away“Instead of studying abroad, get some cross-cultural educational experience in the US by spending time in the diaspora or refugee community, often close to campus. For example, the University of California at Davis offers global learning programs with Spanish-speaking migrant workers and Nepalese immigrants.
However, the real power since the pandemic began has been the virtual exchanges connecting American classrooms with overseas university partners. Professors have used online learning to teach courses in teams, organize group projects with students in different countries, and give presentations to a rotating international speaker group.
Natalie Vargas, a senior at Florida International University, took a Shakespeare class on virtual exchange last fall and completed a group project examining feminism and anti-Semitism The merchant of Venice with students from Slovenia. Vargas was surprised by the Slovenian students' more conservative reading of Shakespeare, but said they learned a lot from the experience. "It was amazing to find this community, this connection, despite our different cultures," she said.
Some educators had previously shied away from virtual exchanges because they felt they were not as immersive as studying abroad, or because they lacked the same opportunities for language learning. However, the pandemic has helped improve the well-being of students and professors in distance learning, said Mohamed Abdel-Kader, executive director of the Stevens Initiative, which supports virtual exchanges between the US, the Middle East and North Africa.
"We don't see it as either / or," he said, "but as another tool in the toolbox."
Opening a shared zoom link is not enough, however – an effective virtual exchange must be designed on purpose and work with the broader academic goals of a course, said Abdel-Kader, whose group has published Recommendations for best practices.
At the University of North Carolina, Ward's office offered small curriculum development scholarships to faculty members of $ 2,500 each to create 20 virtual exchange courses in the 2020-21 academic year. Students studied child and family health with classmates in Grenada and the theater's response to Covid-19 with partners at Queen & # 39; s University in Belfast and the National University of Ireland.
Chapel Hill, which typically sends 43 percent of its students overseas, hadn't conducted a virtual exchange before the pandemic but plans to continue, Ward said.
In addition to connecting classrooms, technology has given students the opportunity to do distance internships around the world. At the beginning of the pandemic, CAPA, a private provider of study abroad, offered virtual internships. Around 900 students have gained work experience around the world, said John Christian, President of CAPA, among others at an Italian PR firm and an Australian baseball team.
Even before the pandemic, students were increasingly interested in global opportunities tied to their career goals, not just cultural experiences. The Institute of International Education reports that in the 2018 academic year, 38,000 students took part in non-credit internship, volunteering, and research abroad, up from 22,000 five years ago.
At least one prominent institution, Dartmouth College, already has announced Dennis Washburn, assistant dean for international studies and interdisciplinary programs, said the closings will reflect structural budget deficits and declining pre-Covid student interest. The college is also striving to reorient its study abroad program to include more geographic diversity and appeal to students in a wider variety of disciplines.
Even so, Washburn said, "Covid really blew us out of the water."
For some colleges, the pandemic has only underscored how connected the world is and the importance of preparing students for it. Agnes Scott College outside of Atlanta has made global education a major institutional priority and has sent all freshmen abroad or to the US for an intercultural experience. Two-thirds of incoming students cite the global learning curriculum as the primary reason for college choice.
During Covid, Agnes Scott had to get by, bringing in speakers and relying on virtual connections to replace travel. But it hasn't shaken the college's confidence in the importance of a global experience, said Gundolf Graml, deputy vice president for academic affairs. "Global learning," he said, "is at the core of who we are and what we do."
(tagsToTranslate) Student Life (t) Innovation (t) Teaching and Learning