Virtual study abroad program brings abroad home

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by Hammad Ali, Contributor

The University of Regina has always had a study abroad program, managed by the relevant office at the UR International. This year, things are of course different due to all of the travel restrictions brought about by COVID-19. In response, many universities are developing virtual student mobility programs, while some are also opting for some hybrid of virtual and in-person models. Recently, the University of Regina has announced that it will be offering a virtual study abroad program, expected to be in place until a future time when physical mobility is once again an option. The notion of a virtual student exchange program sounds intriguing, and we got in touch with Annastasia Sorensen, Acting Manager at the UR International Study Abroad and Global Mobility office to learn more. We were also able to attend a virtual open house on this new program, held via Zoom on November 5, a recording of which is available on their website at https://www.uregina.ca/international/study-abroad/.

UR International feels that, given the realities around the world, a virtual study abroad program offers a good way obtain an international education from the comfort of one’s home country, and provides exciting opportunities for building a global network. Participating students may also be able to earn international designation for classes taken, subject to the rules of their faculty units. Additionally, students will have the option to travel abroad at a later semester when circumstances are more amenable to travel. The office also feels that a virtual program is more equitable, since only a small number of students are able to study abroad physically due to personal commitments and financial constraints. In contrast, this virtual program allows students to take international classes and enjoy intercultural experiences while staying in Canada, maybe even working or tending to their other commitments as long as they can manage their schedules. The virtual program, it is claimed, provides very similar opportunities for developing a global perspective and have significant, meaningful interactions with students from different cultures.

Details of the different international partners that the U of R is currently offering virtual exchange with are available on their website and spans around twenty countries across Europe, Asia, Australia, North and Central America. This list is also not exhaustive, and if students are particularly interested in attending some university not currently on the list, they can get in touch with the UR International office who will look into relevant options. All program requirements and fees are also mentioned on their website, but it should be mentioned here that in addition to no travel, accommodation, and visa-related fees, both the UR International and partner universities are also waiving part of their fees for the virtual program. While the initial deadline has passed, there are still spots available for the Winter 2021 term and students have until the beginning of December to apply. To do so, students should contact the Study Abroad and Global Mobility office.

While most of the important facts are already available online, we also had some questions for Annastasia Sorensen. When asked how the virtual program compares to the more traditional alternative, Sorensen admitted that this was a necessary pivot given the current reality. However, she also feels that while the excitement of travel is missing, the benefits outweigh that, particularly in how students are able to study internationally, meet friends from all over, grow their network, and learn about a new culture at the same tuition cost as taking classes at the U of R. Further, students who are unable to travel due to a variety of reasons are also able to take advantage of the virtual opportunity.

When asked about the expected time commitments, Sorensen mentioned that the time and workload expectations are similar to any typical university semester. While during a physical exchange students are not allowed to work abroad, this program gives them the opportunity to work and earn an income in Canada, thus potentially further addressing any financial constraints hindering anyone from joining a more traditional exchange program. Sorensen does not feel that this takes away anything from the program experience, since like most university classes, students have to be self-motivated to a degree and will get what they put into the experience. She also feels that at this point, students are a lot more familiar with managing their daily lives along with online classes. In addition, many free, optional programs will also be available to all participants that students might enjoy experiencing.

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