.
M

ark Twain’s much quoted observation from “The Innocents Abroad” feels particularly pertinent in 2020, when, travel has come to a sudden halt for many, or has been reduced tremendously for others. As the new academic year is beginning all over the world, far fewer students than usual are surely going to benefit from studying or travelling abroad or meeting international students at home.

It is unclear if missing out on the chance to study abroad or make friends with international students will have any long-term consequences, but it is not unreasonable to assume that this could contribute to a less open worldview later on in life. In an increasingly globalized world, many of the major global challenges that we will face over the next decades will require multilateral, cross-cultural responses. We will need more leaders who are global in their worldview and outlook. Yet, many of these future leaders are going to have missed out on the chance to be able to study internationally. Despite travel challenges, there are still many ways in which students today can still have an international experience to help them become global leaders tomorrow.

The Virtual Exchange Coalition is a U.S. based organization that has been promoting the importance and value of virtual exchange for many years. They believe that “education exchanges and study abroad programs are among the best means to prepare young people for such a world—increasing their inclination and capacity to deal effectively with difference and to communicate and collaborate across cultures.” A research project with the Saxelab Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at MIT has “demonstrated that virtual exchange programs can increase participants’ empathy for other cultures and perspectives, develop their willingness to engage constructively with peers of diverse backgrounds and views, and provide participants with the experience of being heard and respected.” This speaks to a really wide range of current societal challenges as well as longer term future ones.

The British Council, a UK cultural relations and educational organization has long promoted programs that support both in person and virtual exchange. Vicky Gough and John Rolfe, advisers in the Education Division, explained that the “organization’s vison is that every young person should have an intercultural and international experience.” The process of “exchanging innovative ideas, developing joint projects, communication, and collaboration bring motivated schools, educators, and students together in a global shared conversation that brings the world into all our places of teaching and learning. These virtual exchanges are authentic, engaging and offer focused exposure to a wide community of learning to develop a more opened minded attitude and greater global awareness.”

Members of the Virtual Exchange Coalition and the British Council have an abundance of evidence of the positive impact of international exchanges but even pre-pandemic only a small number of schools and universities participated in these programs. UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres has spoken about the current moment, with all the disruption caused by COVID-19, offering “a generational opportunity to reimagine education.” What if part of that reimagining included making an international experience part of education for all students, without even having to get on an airplane or have a passport?  Imagine all of the benefits that could produce.

As schools and universities continue to adapt to a new physically distanced reality and prepare for a year in which there will almost certainly be localized school shutdowns in many parts of the world, what if they also seized the opportunity to embed international connections into students’ education experiences. Students around the world could come out of this strange year of enforced physical distancing more socially connected and internationally minded, with all the benefits that could yield in the future, than ever before.

About
Carine Allaf
:
Dr. Carine Allaf is Senior Programs Advisor at Qatar Foundation International.
About
Dominic Regester
:
Dominic Regester is Program Director at Salzburg Global Seminar and Executive Committee Member, Karanga.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

Study Abroad During COVID-19

Photo by Arthur Edelman via Unsplash.

September 22, 2020

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

M

ark Twain’s much quoted observation from “The Innocents Abroad” feels particularly pertinent in 2020, when, travel has come to a sudden halt for many, or has been reduced tremendously for others. As the new academic year is beginning all over the world, far fewer students than usual are surely going to benefit from studying or travelling abroad or meeting international students at home.

It is unclear if missing out on the chance to study abroad or make friends with international students will have any long-term consequences, but it is not unreasonable to assume that this could contribute to a less open worldview later on in life. In an increasingly globalized world, many of the major global challenges that we will face over the next decades will require multilateral, cross-cultural responses. We will need more leaders who are global in their worldview and outlook. Yet, many of these future leaders are going to have missed out on the chance to be able to study internationally. Despite travel challenges, there are still many ways in which students today can still have an international experience to help them become global leaders tomorrow.

The Virtual Exchange Coalition is a U.S. based organization that has been promoting the importance and value of virtual exchange for many years. They believe that “education exchanges and study abroad programs are among the best means to prepare young people for such a world—increasing their inclination and capacity to deal effectively with difference and to communicate and collaborate across cultures.” A research project with the Saxelab Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at MIT has “demonstrated that virtual exchange programs can increase participants’ empathy for other cultures and perspectives, develop their willingness to engage constructively with peers of diverse backgrounds and views, and provide participants with the experience of being heard and respected.” This speaks to a really wide range of current societal challenges as well as longer term future ones.

The British Council, a UK cultural relations and educational organization has long promoted programs that support both in person and virtual exchange. Vicky Gough and John Rolfe, advisers in the Education Division, explained that the “organization’s vison is that every young person should have an intercultural and international experience.” The process of “exchanging innovative ideas, developing joint projects, communication, and collaboration bring motivated schools, educators, and students together in a global shared conversation that brings the world into all our places of teaching and learning. These virtual exchanges are authentic, engaging and offer focused exposure to a wide community of learning to develop a more opened minded attitude and greater global awareness.”

Members of the Virtual Exchange Coalition and the British Council have an abundance of evidence of the positive impact of international exchanges but even pre-pandemic only a small number of schools and universities participated in these programs. UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres has spoken about the current moment, with all the disruption caused by COVID-19, offering “a generational opportunity to reimagine education.” What if part of that reimagining included making an international experience part of education for all students, without even having to get on an airplane or have a passport?  Imagine all of the benefits that could produce.

As schools and universities continue to adapt to a new physically distanced reality and prepare for a year in which there will almost certainly be localized school shutdowns in many parts of the world, what if they also seized the opportunity to embed international connections into students’ education experiences. Students around the world could come out of this strange year of enforced physical distancing more socially connected and internationally minded, with all the benefits that could yield in the future, than ever before.

About
Carine Allaf
:
Dr. Carine Allaf is Senior Programs Advisor at Qatar Foundation International.
About
Dominic Regester
:
Dominic Regester is Program Director at Salzburg Global Seminar and Executive Committee Member, Karanga.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.