Listen, I know how odd it sounds. All summer I received the same response and facial expression when I explained I was going to study abroad…virtually.
“Virtually? How are you going to do that?”
Well, with the power of Zoom and a hand-picked box of cultural supplies, I was able to embark on the best virtual experience possible given the circumstances of the COVID-19 Pandemic through the Introduction to Global Pacific: Asia Pacific Study Abroad Program. Now, most students who dream of studying abroad probably struggle to decide which country they will travel to. I was able to learn from four, including Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong. The virtual experience lasted three weeks, with class held at night during the 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. timeframe. This was due to the time zone differences across the world bringing a challenge to virtual instruction; however, it could have been seen as a positive as it still gave students the ability to work and have free time during the day. The format of the class consisted of three main parts: lectures, business briefings, and cultural activities. In the business briefings, we were given the opportunity to meet with representatives from the different countries being studied. This gave me the skills to research businesses and formulate questions to discuss with the representatives while learning about different international businesses that I had little prior knowledge of before taking this course. The cultural activities were tons of fun, of course, but more than that they gave me a taste of the hands-on portion of studying abroad that I was missing by not visiting the countries in person. We were able to tour the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore and the Rocks District in Sydney, Australia. Both of which were live and led by guides who answered questions as they explained the areas we toured in. We were also able to participate in a virtual cooking class led by an Australian chef where we made traditional lamingtons and meat pies. We spent one part of another class in a Tai Chi lesson led by an instructor from Hong Kong. All in all, the experience was extremely educational while mixing in fun activities and real-world business experience.
"A virtual program is a perfect way for those who are considering going abroad but are unsure of themselves."
Now, for some honesty. I hear of students wanting to study abroad, stories of those who have, and dream destinations of where my friends would go if they could. The ironic thing is this: I never wanted to go abroad. Shocking, I know, but I have never thought about a country I would go to or felt excited about the thought of studying abroad. Frankly, it scared me! Fear is the biggest reason I never wanted to because I like being safe in my bubble of home. This virtual experience for me has now unlocked the possibility for me. Having an introduction to the four countries included in the program gave me a taste of what I could experience in person one day. I see international experience as a vital part of being a college student, and an especially important experience for business students before they navigate the world upon graduation. A virtual program is a perfect way for those who are considering going abroad but are unsure of themselves. For some, the virtual program may even be just enough international experience and that is okay too! It is a great way to dip your toes in and introduce yourself to what you could experience abroad.
My biggest takeaway from the experience was the growth I obtained. I am often a shy and reserved individual, but I forced myself to ask a question during every single business briefing and actively participate during lectures. I am grateful for every lesson, both academic and personal, that I learned during the duration of the study abroad program. This program, along with any in-person program, teaches responsibility, independence, leadership skills, and allows you to come out of your shell. So, can a virtual study abroad program replace the real thing? No, it cannot replace it, but it can give you the opportunity to dive in and experience another culture from the comfort of home. If you are on the fence about going abroad, scared to take the leap, or unsure about participating in either a virtual or in-person program, just do it. In one of the activities I participated in, we were able to meet with former University of Iowa alum currently living and working abroad. A common piece of advice the alum shared with us was to be courageous. It takes courage to go to another country and be on your own, but you can learn so much about yourself and truly immerse yourself in an entirely new culture. Take the leap, don’t be afraid of being yourself, have courage, and get ready to have the experience of a lifetime. You won’t regret it.
Shelby Enger, a University of Iowa Tippie Business student and a Diversity Ambassador Scholarship recipient, participated in the Introduction to Global Business: Asia Pacific Virtual Course during the summer of 2021.
The Diversity Ambassador Scholarship program provides awards to study abroad for a semester or academic year program. The scholarships are intended to support the diversification of students who study abroad. Upon completion of the study abroad program and return to UI, award recipients are asked to submit a photo and an open letter to prospective students for use on our diversity web pages or suggest an alternate means of sharing with prospective students. Open letters are especially helpful as they reach the broadest audience. All Diversity Ambassadors will be invited to share their experiences abroad with prospective students from underrepresented groups on campus through outreach events.
Up to ten (10), $1,000 Diversity Ambassador Scholarships will be awarded for the Spring and Fall semesters/Academic Year; up to ten (10), $1,000 Diversity Ambassador Scholarships will be awarded for Summer and Winter sessions.