Go for it: The need for virtual study abroad is now greater than ever

With COVID-19 and the economy impacting the ability to travel for students in real life over the past two-plus years, opportunities for global virtual engagement are increasing.

In March 2020, the COVID pandemic wreaked havoc on international student exchanges, forcing countries to call students home while travel bans left many other students stranded abroad, unable to return. in their country of origin.

Open house data for the 2020-2021 academic year shows that new enrollments of international students in the United States decreased by 45.6% compared to the previous year.

The most popular form of study abroad for U.S. students, short-term study abroad, has seen a 73% decrease in 2019-20, with summer programs particularly affected, down 99%.

At the same time, COVID has demonstrated the need for individual global engagement highlighted by the relevance of global perspectives, as every corner of the earth and most industries have been impacted in one way or another by public health crises, lockdowns and global supply chain disruptions that followed.

At my university, after three years of planning, the first cohort of primary school students in our new semester-long exchange program with Maynooth University in Ireland have resisted the cancellation of the program for the second times due to ongoing travel restrictions.

Go virtual

As the 2022 school year dawns, as the higher education administration develops post-pandemic programs and countries lift travel restrictions, hundreds of thousands of U.S. and international students are eager to pursue their study abroad dreams that have been put on the back burner for the past two years. But with escalating costs and the crisis of airline cancellations due to labor shortages and inclement weather, virtual global collaborations are an attractive option.

Short of technological challenges, virtual international trade is all but guaranteed. Recently, one of my own professional collaborations included Greek and Turkish Cypriots connecting over FaceTime with a teacher in Germany and an educational training provider in Wales, while considering programming for a donor-supported environmental center Libyan to involve American students in an international learning service. live.

In the 25 years before the pandemic, study abroad programs for American students had grown up regularly. Importantly, the proportion of underrepresented students in diverse cultural and racial origins increased by 9% between 2009-2010 and 2019-2020.

The dilemma of learning foreign languages

While American student participation in study abroad may be on the rise, resistance to foreign language learning continues, with data showing a significant decline since the 1960s in the study of foreign languages ​​at the times in K-12 and in middle schools.

The most recent national K-12 foreign language enrollment survey, published in 2017, reports that only 20% of American school children are learning a foreign language and that only 11 states have foreign language graduation requirements.

At the college level, 16.5% of students enrolled in modern language courses in 1965, but in 2016 that number was just 7.5%, according to the most recent report of the Modern Languages ​​Association.

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As devastating as it has been, the pandemic has offered a kind of silver lining for global exchanges, as institutions have been forced to transform study abroad programs by turning to new practices. These include offering a home learning service with local international populations and creating virtual mobility by incorporating technology.

The benefits of a growing trend

Virtual study abroad experiences and online collaborative international learning practices have flourished during the pandemic and have proven particularly successful when borders have been closed. An example is the State University of New York which posts how COIL connects students and faculty with their international counterparts for collaborative projects and discussions within their courses.

For students whose life circumstances make studying abroad impossible or impractical, virtual study abroad proves to be especially beneficial. Obstacles such as cost, family responsibilities, concerns about adjusting to studying abroad for graduation on time, and possible discomfort of international travel are easily overcome with online education opportunities. overseas line.

An added benefit of virtual study abroad is the reduced environmental impact of international travel and the fact that it addresses the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which many universities choose to adopt.

While some American universities increasingly aspire to full internationalization, defined by the American Council on Education as “a strategic and coordinated framework that integrates policies, programs, initiatives, and individuals to make colleges and universities more globally oriented and internationally connected”, studies at Abroad in their many forms continue to be an important facet in meeting global educational goals.

For many students, the future of their work will involve cross-border collaborations and the creation of services and products for a globally diverse culture.

Certainly, some may argue that the growth of virtual study abroad is making in-person global exchanges less relevant. Recent research from East Carolina University suggests that students who engage in virtual study abroad use their experiences as a gateway, with physical study abroad likely almost double after virtual international exchange.

As international travel contributes significantly to pollution and increased carbon footprint, as the world emerges from the pandemic, grapples with the global impact of the war on Ukraine and seeks to In the face of the current global refugee crisis, it is now more relevant than ever to foster connections between cultures.

In his 1869 book, The Innocents Abroad, author Mark Twain writes, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our fellow citizens badly need it for these reasons.

These words ring true as educational institutions guide students back to cross-cultural exchange – including virtually – and promote the value of interconnected and globalized perspectives.

Karen L. Newman is an Associate Professor of English at Indianapolis University and an OpEd Project Public Voices Fellow.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.

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