COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – The world locked down due to COVID-19, and university students planning to study abroad had to adapt their plans. Columbus State University took the used the roadblocks from the pandemic to implement a virtual opportunity for students looking to study abroad.
Columbus State University has an average of 150 to 180 students going abroad each academic year. Students travel anywhere from Mexico to Western Europe to South Korea, but in 2020 and 2021, travel restrictions forced Columbus State University to shift programs online. An unexpected outcome from this shift was that it created an opportunity for students who otherwise may not have been able to study abroad.
“I think the biggest lesson I got out of that… was that the virtual experience cost a lot less than the physical travel,” Dr. Eric Spears, Executive Director of the Center of Global Engagement, said. “I’m not saying that virtual can substitute for the kinds of experiences you can get with physical travel overseas, but it’s a different kind of experience that also has validity.”
CSU student TJ Sabau is one of the students participating in this new study abroad experience. Over an eight week period, he will operate in four different countries as part of his virtual internship.
“It’s awesome because I’m older and married so I don’t have the ability to leave the country for longer periods of time just because I have obligations here,” Sabau said. “So this is an opportunity that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get.”
With technology as a resource, building genuine human connection with people across the globe is easier than ever. Sabau emphasizes that it is important to have personalized relationships with people outside of the U.S.
“It’s different when you think of different countries, different cultures across the world… and when you think of them as kind of a nameless, faceless entity…. Thailand of example, it’s different when you know somebody in Thailand and when you think of Thailand you think of that personalized relationship.”
CSU is aiming to have in-person travel beginning in the fall semester with students going to Japan, South Korea and the UK. That being said, their virtual study abroad options are something they will continue to implement beyond the pandemic.