Some students, unable to travel internationally because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will log on to their computers and virtually experience study abroad programs from home in a few months.
Because students will not be able to study in other countries during the January intersession, many faculty members are trying to recreate the international experience through virtual tours and activities.
Kathi Jogan, a professor of agricultural, food and life sciences, restructured her New Zealand-based Human and Animal Interactions program to use an online format for the upcoming semester. Working with a third-party company, American Universities International Programs, she has planned virtual tours and activities that examine the relationship between humans and animals through a global lens.
The remote program Jogan is planning will include online tours and conversations through Zoom and recorded videos. Students will have the opportunity to talk to several local New Zealanders, ranging from employees of the Department of Conservation of New Zealand to local veterinarians, and they will also view local animals.
Ken Coffey, a professor of animal science and faculty leader of the Panama Agricultural & Cultural Virtual Tour, has also adapted his study abroad program to be remote for the January intersession.
“When it became obvious that COVID-19 wasn't going to clear off by March, we had to figure out how we’re going to adapt to it and do the program,” Coffey said.
Students will meet once a week, and Coffey said he is hoping they will be able to meet face-to-face in a classroom setting that accommodates social distancing.
Coffey, who previously led the Panama program in spring break 2019, wanted to give students the opportunity to discover Panama remotely. Using the same travel agents employed for previous trips, Coffey is planning to send in both his own and student’s questions, after which agents will travel around Panama capturing video answers.
“Summer 2019 we went to Panama and we had such a good tour that we contacted the travel agent who organized the whole thing, for a virtual experience for this upcoming semester,” Coffey said.
Using these agents, Coffey is planning to recreate the tour using recorded video clips and conversations.
“The agents are going to go to the different farms where we went to, and interview the producers and take video clips of it for us,” Coffee said, “So that way we will see farms and talk to the people who run the farms and see what they are doing.”
The transition to online programs has given faculty the flexibility of creating opportunities they would not have in person. Because the program is virtual, Jogan also plans on remotely exploring parts of the world that students would not have been able to on an actual trip.
“Since we don’t have to pay for a plane ticket, I figured we’ll swing by Australia and take a look,” Jogan said. “We’re going to have students meet a scuba diver and have him talk about the different corals in the Great Barrier Reef and what they’re doing conservation wise there.”
While this virtual study abroad experience is not intended to replace in-person learning, it gives students an opportunity for some international education.
“It's not going to be the same as going there, but we're going to try to make it the best we can,” Coffey said.
Fifth-year architecture student Shavanna Dean returned home from Rome, with the rest of the students in March because of travel restrictions, finishing the rest of her UA Rome Center study abroad semester online. Although it was not what she had originally planned, she was still able to experience elements of Roman architecture that she would have if she was still in Italy, Dean said.
Faculty members who lived in Rome took videos of sites and buildings around Rome. Using the program ConceptBoard, students were able to continue to draw Roman architecture and share their architectural drawings with their classmates.
Dean said she recommends virtual study abroad to students only if it is their last available option. Virtual study abroad is not the same for experiencing a different culture, but the faculty did their best to adapt to their programs, Dean said.
“The faculty made the most of the situation to the best of their ability, and they really tried their best even though we weren't there,” Dean said. “They tried to be encouraging and show things that we would have been able to see in person.”
Bringing this international education back home has been a challenge that all program leaders have had to adapt to, Jogan said.
“We’re all trying to take as much of it out of the classroom and into the foreign country as we can and expose students to the culture and everything they would encounter,” Jogan said.
January remote study abroad programs will cost the same as regular intersession classes, plus an additional fee of about $300.
UA officials are scheduled to make a final decision on the format for spring 2021 trips by the end of October, said Veronica Mobley, assistant director in charge of outreach for study abroad. Any changes to travel restrictions or updates related to COVID-19 can be found on the study abroad website.