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UCalgary Study Abroad program: Adapting to the new normal

By Eula Mengullo, August 19 2020—

The University of Calgary’s Study Abroad program introduced a variety of virtual global exchange programs and opportunities available to students this upcoming fall semester.  

Colleen Packer, director of the International Learning program, said that although the majority of these programs are primarily course work, they are currently collaborating with partner universities to develop research and internship opportunities. Additionally, virtual global exchanges for technical-based courses are also being offered by a few partner universities. 

The duration of the exchange and internship programs are one semester long, similar to the length of a traditional exchange. The semester dates vary depending on the partner university that a student is planning on attending. By contrast, “research placements will be more flexible in length […] with a minimum of one month, but ideally three to four months [in duration],” said Packer. 

In terms of financial costs, Packer noted that virtual exchanges will be “a lot cheaper than standard study abroad [as students] don’t have to pay for travel and accommodations.” Some internships, however, may be more costly as they are being managed by partner organizations. With regards to financial assistance, the same scholarships and awards will be made available to students. The criteria for funding ranges from academic merit to financial need, while some are on a first-come-first-serve basis. Once in-person exchanges have resumed, Packer said that there will be more awards available covering travel costs and accommodations. 

In response to accommodating different time zones, Packer explained that “some courses will be a hybrid of synchronous and asynchronous learning.” There will be certain schedules for when students attend live lectures and discussions, while also giving them time to work on their own. Janean Hodgson, manager of Education Abroad, also added that university partners are “making their synchronous time more congruent [and] manageable for students in our time zone.”

Taegen Everts, a UCalgary student doing a virtual European course with LMU Munich, described that “it is a great way [for her] to network” and “hear about other students’ perspectives.” Everts described how she was able to connect with students from different parts of the world through group chats and discussions. On their first week, Everts cohort was given a virtual tour of the Munich city centre, since themselves could not be there physically. Overall, Everts said that she really liked the program, as it allowed her to network with students from all over the world who were coming together with a collective interest. 

Similarly, Yi Chen, also a UCalgary student participating in the program, said the virtual study abroad  “helped globalize [her] education” and is beneficial for cross-cultural interaction. Chen, who is doing an internship with the University of Western Australia, noted that the program “broadened her horizons especially [with] Australia,” through the number of cultural workshops and activities. With students coming from Saudi Arabia, China and Australia, Chen mentioned how “group chat discussions [gave her] an opportunity […] to learn about other cultures.” 

Chen also remarked how she got an opportunity to do an alternative research project this summer, since her initial research internships to other countries were cancelled due to the global pandemic. 

Packer and Hodgson addressed that although it may not offer the same experience as a standard study abroad program, it is still beneficial in broadening students’ perspectives. By taking virtual unique courses that are not offered at UCalgary, it allows for the “enrichment of our classroom and […] the culture of the university and the city at large,” said Hodgson. Collectively highlighting some of the advantages of doing a virtual global program — cross-cultural interaction and development, expanding one’s network and enrichment of communication skills — Packer and Hodgson both remarked that it offers students a unique opportunity to expand their horizons. 

“It still prepares students for real life and […] is building a lot of important skills that are relevant to any student wanting to work in today’s globalized workforce,” said Packer. “[A virtual global exchange is] a great way to test the waters […] and see what the academic system is like” for those considering doing an in-person exchange in the future, she said.

“Participating in an online exchange that’s immersing yourself in a different system is an invaluable experience because this is the way the world is going forward,” added Hodgson. 

Currently, virtual opportunities are only for fall semester, as much is still unknown about winter. For more information about UCalgary virtual study abroad programs, students are encouraged to visit their website.

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