A Year of Reckoning: Resetting International Ed

PD: A green-colored blackboard with the word "Reset" on it in white. In white chalk, a rectangle is drawn around the word Reset and a hand is drawn below it with the pointer finger touching it as if it were a button.

In an April 2021 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Karin Fischer asks those who work in and care about international education an existential question: “What, after all, is study abroad without the abroad?”

In the last year, schools and programs got creative to answer this question. At the Global Learning in Agriculture 2021 conference, Jack Elliot and Tobin Redwine from Texas A&M shared a summary of their successful two-week Virtual Study Abroad High Impact Experience with Namibia. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which normally sends 43% of its undergraduate students abroad, offered grants to teachers to design 20 courses incorporating virtual exchanges with institutions in countries from Grenada to Ireland during the COVID-19 administration. Waukesha County Technical College in Wisconsin continued to place global knowledge and intercultural exchange at the forefront of their educational objectives this year as they adapted their global education programs to include CLICK virtual exchange projects with their current and future international partners in Mexico, the Netherlands, and the UK.

"What, after all, is study abroad without the abroad?" (Fischer)

The question that interests us here goes beyond the definition of study abroad. What will happen when international travel can begin anew? Will programs simply restart their study abroad programs, or, as Fischer suggests, is it time for a reset? Ogden and Hulse lament, “Alas, somewhere along the way, education abroad enrolment as a means to an end became the goal in and of itself. For some institutions, increasing the number of students who study abroad strangely became the metric of success.” They warn against a myopic view of our potential as international educators. Gazelle International agrees with them that we must move away from this model; we cannot merely restart and continue as things were before 2020. If one of the primary objectives of education abroad is global knowledge exchange, how should ed abroad programs adapt in the face of the changes brought about by the pandemic so that we continue to keep that goal as our focus?

We should continue to explore the new modalities for international learning and engagement with which we have experimented this year. Let’s take advantage of our new and greatly expanded repertoire of strategies and methodologies that do not rely solely on mobility. For Gazelle International, that looks like CLICK.

This moment is the perfect opportunity for a reset in how we think about study abroad programs and internationalization efforts. Conversations over the last year revealed that the year 2020 caused a reckoning in international ed in two major ways: both in how campuses impart global knowledge and intercultural skills, and to whom. Here we will review both sides of this coin and reflect on how Gazelle International’s CLICK virtual exchange modules contribute to the conversation.

Reevaluating modalities for international learning

COVID-19 forced a pause on traditional international ed programs requiring travel, allowing space for reflection on other modalities that could be utilized for international learning moving forward. Due to quarantines and restrictions on global travel, most travel programs were canceled. A few managed to redesign their programs with “virtual” study abroad components (see, for example, the Study Abroad Association’s 360° Global Learning program). Temple University allowed students to study abroad at campuses in Tokyo and Rome, with varying degrees of disruptions from two-week arrival quarantines to a major move online for extended periods. The changes in traditional ed abroad programs have been numerous and demanding.

More importantly, international educators are realizing that in a post-COVID world--whatever that may mean--students are not going to jump right back in to study abroad according to pre-COVID preferences and trends. There will be no restart, no return to the first square on the board game. Instead, it will be a new game altogether. Student participation in study abroad is going to look different. According to Fischer, here’re some reasons why:

  • A recent survey shows that 6 out of 10 students may be willing to skip a study abroad experience in order to enjoy the time on campus that they have missed during lockdowns.

  • In study abroad campuses that continued to offer courses, there have been complications due to quarantines or outbreaks which have required significant institutional infrastructure to navigate. This could cause student preference to switch toward traditional college- or provider-run programs and direct exchanges over short-term trips and smaller programs led by individual faculty members.

  • Students and parents have concerns about specific COVID-19 mutations in other regions of the world.

  • Stakeholders feel a higher general sense of worry regarding safety, liability, and risk management. Gazelle International often advertises CLICK as a way to mitigate risk, and this is even more important in the current climate.

  • Students may change where they were planning on attending a study abroad.

  • Students from the USA may not be welcome in certain places of the world if these countries disagree with the US’s management of the pandemic and vaccine distribution.

  • Most importantly, there are fundamental ethics questions surrounding vaccines. Holly Hudson, the executive director of education abroad at Texas A&M University (College Station) “said she would be cautious about advising students to go to countries where they could place out a demand on already-taxed health-care systems” (Fischer). These ethical questions become more complex as we consider how US students could be a burden on healthcare systems and what it means for vaccinated US students to study in places where vaccines have not been available widely to the local population.

If institutions value global knowledge exchange as a campus-wide objective, educators must talk about how else that can happen. One way this knowledge exchange across cultures and between nations can continue is through virtual exchange, or Gazelle International’s version CLICK. By incorporating international experiences into the day-to-day course syllabi and the overall campus curriculum, more students have more access to these life-changing opportunities. Students can take multiple classes that incorporate virtual exchange projects, working with a variety of people from around the world. These virtual modules would avoid all issues concerning travel, viral strains, vaccine passports, and international healthcare systems. Students would still be at home, close to their friends and family, with the possibility to participate fully in campus life.

Gazelle International’s services are a force-multiplier to achieve the full power of your internationalization strategy.

With CLICK, let's re-position global partners from research or mobility to classroom collaborations or build brand new partnerships! Let’s engage faculty who are newly-familiar with various techno-pedagogies and tools since the start of the pandemic to expand the realms of possibility of their classes to include virtual exchange! Utilize CLICK as an extender strategy to mobility programs; as students get to know other cultures and their international peers, they may feel encouraged and motivated to make travel happen for them and their schedule. Gazelle International’s services are a force-multiplier to achieve the full power of your internationalization strategy. As Fischer’s article wisely notes, “[I]t’s not enough to open up a joint Zoom link--effective virtual changes need to be intentionally designed and work in concert with the broader academic goals of a course.” Gazelle International’s extensive training--from exploring VE, to connecting with a partner, to designing the project--can aid you in your journey to create intentional international and intercultural learning experiences.

Diversity, Equity, and International Ed

The second way that international education has been brought to reckoning has been through the discussion of whom these programs are serving. The Black Lives Matter movement and the protests following the murder of George Floyd played a major role in calling “newfound attention to study abroad’s struggles with diversity” (Fischer). Ogden and Hulse note, “For years, the typical education abroad student profile has been a white, female undergraduate majoring in the humanities, social sc