After having to make the decision of canceling all of UNI’s study abroad programs for the Summer and Fall of 2020, the UNI Study Abroad office is finally back in business. They recently conducted their Study Abroad Fair but instead of the Maucker Union, this fair was held virtually via Zoom.
The set up was unique and the office used technology to their advantage, splitting the meeting up into smaller breakout rooms. Each student could then decide which program they were most interested in and they would then be transferred to a group with the representative of that program. Just like at the normal fair, students had the opportunity to interact with and ask questions from a wide range of universities and countries enabling them to get all the information they need while following social distance protocols.
In the spirit of making everything accessible virtually, the UNI Study Abroad Office is now also offering virtual study abroad programs where students will have the opportunity to explore a different country and culture within the comfort of their homes.
“The brief of the program would be to kind of combine two things that I have been doing, the southern Italy kind of capstone, which isn’t able to travel this year, with my normal Environment Technology and Society capstone that I do here on campus,” shared Chad Heinzel, a professor at University of Northern Iowa, Earth and Environmental Science department, representing the Summer Virtual Capstone in Southern Italy for 2021. “The whole idea to do it here would be through the lens of the southern mediterranean, so we would look at everything through the eyes of an Italian.”
“The idea here is not just to listen to me talk about what I know of Italy, but we would Zoom or Skype some of my colleagues in Italy at the University of Palermo to really get kind of that true Italian flavor but still satisfy the Environmental Technology and Society capstone,” said Heinzel. “I am thinking about trying to incorporate a cooking class where I would have students go out and purchase a set amount of ingredients and then have one of the Italians provide us with a cooking class. I’ve also thought about having the opportunity for our students to sit virtually in an Italian classroom. The one big advantage point is that, since we are not traveling, this would be a lot cheaper than traveling to Sissali. That’s probably the biggest upside, that you still get a global experience but at a much cheaper cost.”
In addition, Paula Van Zee, Director of UNI Study Abroad Center, stated, “Virtual capstones are a great way to bring the world to you! Without having to pay for airfare or hotel expenses abroad, you will be able to talk with people in other parts of the world and have interactive experiences relating to the course content.” She added “For example, you might meet with someone in Panama who works for a multinational corporation and discuss their corporate strategy, or you might meet with a biologist in South Africa and learn about their conservation work with marine wildlife. This type of program is an accessible and environmentally friendly way to increase your intercultural competence and learn vital skills for working in the global community.”
Concurrently, UNI is still offering the traditional study abroad experience for the Spring 2021 semester for countries such as Ireland, Chile, South Africa, Australia, Japan, South Korea and many more. With the pandemic still gripping the world, university representatives are here to offer guidance and help provide security and reassurance to students who wish to travel abroad.
“Right now there are still students who are starting in the fall semester which starts on the 28th of September” said Margaret Cardosi, the North American Officer for University College Cork in Ireland. “Also, right now anybody coming from outside of Ireland, from the United States specifically, does need to quarantine for 14 days. We have a lot of information on our public health site about that but we are actually providing public transportation free of cost for international students. We get them down to campus, we escort them to their accommodation and make sure that they feel supported and have everything they need. We want to make sure that they know where to go, how to order groceries or who to call if they have a problem.”
Another country that had a lot of attention while still having closed borders was Australia, specifically the University of Tasmania. “I just want everyone to go on a study abroad tour because I think it really expands their world views and it means that they are more likable or understanding and more accepting of others, and I think that is something that we should see more of in this world and not less of” expressed Patrick Foley-Donoghue, a representative of the Australian university. Having experienced studying abroad himself, Foley-Donoghue strongly believes in the importance of cultivating a world view for students and helping them meet like-minded people.
“It’s the courses that you want to take, you bring your own passions,” said Foley-Donoghue. “I mean, you can find out half this stuff on the internet but you’re taking a course because you want to meet people that are passionate about the same thing as you. You want to meet people that test you, that ask you questions not just about yourself but where you are from and what you do and why.”
According to Van Zee, UNI is also working closely with their students to support them during this difficult time and to make sure that all travel plans continue smoothly.
“The situation is ever evolving and we are working with each student on a one on one case,” said Van Zee. “We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to operate study abroad programs abroad once again in 2021. As we prepare for the new reality of sending students abroad in the time of COVID-19, we are reviewing our guidelines closely to ensure that our students can once again participate in life changing international experiences in person, while adhering to recommendations issued by health authorities.”