Higher Education

Online Study Abroad and Virtual Gap Year Programs Launch as Higher Ed Continues to Realign

By Henry Kronk
July 07, 2020

At the end of the spring 2020 semester, many remained optimistic that campuses would be able to reopen come the fall. While many colleges are planning to reopen on limited bases, other aspects of undergraduate life remain non-starters. Among these: the practices of studying abroad and taking gap years. In their place, online study abroad and virtual gap year options have become available.

Solutions vary widely. They employ digital communications technology and even virtual reality to bring together students from different backgrounds together into the same online environment.

Recreational international travel may very well be one of the last pre-Covid-19 luxuries that will return to general availability. These solutions may be in use for some time.

Online Study Abroad Programs and Virtual Gap Years Launch to Preserve the Undergraduate Experience

Amigos de las Americas (AMIGOS) has been running international civic engagement gap year programs for students for over 50 years. With that possibility now off the table, the organization recently launched a virtual gap year program in collaboration with Tufts University. The Civic Engagement Gap Semester offers high school grads the ability to remotely get their feet wet in areas such as food security, public health, and justice while collaborating with peers and experts from throughout the Americas.

“Young people have enormous power to recognize and address critical social issues,” said Sara Nathan, President & CEO of AMIGOS, in a statement. “They are eager to construct a more inclusive and open world. Our goal is to empower these young leaders to take an active role within their communities and create positive social change.”

The Study Abroad Association, meanwhile, has been administering study abroad programs for U.S. colleges since 2009. During the time when schools typically prepare for spring study abroad trips, the SAA has announced the release of days’ worth of 360º video and virtual reality experiences.

It won’t replace a trip to the Acropolis in Athens. But it could provide some relief to students confined to their homes, apartments, or dorm rooms.

“Our mission and our goal here is to assist institutions in internationalizing their curriculums, making sure they have globally competent students, faculty and staff,” said Christian Alyea, Cofounder of Study Abroad Association, in a statement. “We hope that this technology can be used as a tool to further promote traditional study abroad and work well hand-in-hand as an enhancement to reach the mass majority who don’t participate in study abroad experiences each year.”

Keeping International Students On Track to Graduate

On July 6, UC Berkeley Global announced an online study abroad program for the coming school year with a different tack. Instead of focusing on providing their students with an international experience, they want to allow international students who can’t easily travel to the U.S. to keep their studies going.

Otherwise known as the Global Program for Freshmen, the initiative is aimed at incoming first-year students. It blends small synchronous online courses with mentoring and other social functions.

“Our goal is to set students up for a successful college experience, so I’m excited by the blend of thoughtful curriculum, high-impact advising and special programming,” said Dean of UC Berkeley Global Dr. Diana Wu, in a statement. “We’re offering students some of the best elements of a small liberal arts environment with the resources of one of the finest universities in the world.”

Featured Image: Harrison Moore, Unsplash.