With the U.S. and much of the world engulfed in the COVID-19 pandemic, travel restrictions and health risks have threatened to make study abroad difficult, if not impossible.
But that doesn’t mean students won’t still want to learn about other cultures and see how people in other parts of the world approach different issues, such as climate change, income inequality or human rights.
Ideally, students would learn about these things in different cultural contexts by actually going to other countries. But since travel abroad to certain countries is off-limits or discouraged due to COVID-19, the question now becomes: How can study abroad still be done?
As a longtime proponent of international education, one solution I see – and one that more and more universities are beginning to pursue – is to have students study abroad online.
American University, Arcadia University Northeastern University and the University of Buffalo are already advancing virtual study abroad. Their programs range from online courses at a U.S. university’s international branch campus to courses offered in partnership with foreign universities.
A new approach
These options involve courses designed and taught by either U.S. professors or professors based abroad selected and trained by a U.S. college or university. This is done to make sure the course aligns with the student’s graduation requirements.
But I see another way to do virtual study abroad that I believe would radically change the way it is done. And that is, U.S. colleges and universities could offer courses from other parts of the world precisely as they are delivered there, not modified to mirror American courses. The idea would be to expose U.S. students to views from outside of the country.
U.S. colleges and universities could make sure that the selected courses are accredited by reputable organizations, such as the German Accreditation Agency or the Japan Institution for Education Evaluation.
These courses would be delivered through the most advanced technological platforms available. They would also count toward graduation or even be made a graduation requirement. Or they could be a course requirement for a major.
Many universities abroad already offer courses in English that are taught remotely. Being involved with the University of Freiburg in Germany, I’ve seen firsthand how the online capability of foreign universities increased dramatically as they had to switch online due to the pandemic. Studying abroad online, therefore, is something that could be done right away.