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by Brian Zhang | September 01, 2020

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It’s time to rethink what it means to study abroad. It has never meant staying home and looking at your computer screen, but it’s also never been so easy or cheap to do. With all of the recent risks and complications involved in international travel, virtual study abroad programs have emerged as a great alternative option for those who seek authentic experiences with other cultures and languages.

How does a virtual study abroad program work?

Just like in-person study abroad programs, virtual programs come in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit your particular needs. GVI offers a program running as short as two weeks, IES Abroad has a six-week program, and others like CEA and CIEE have programs that span an entire quarter or semester. AIFS and CEA offer a comprehensive combination of internships; university courses; and other supplemental experiences, such as social events, career workshops, and exploration of local cultural highlights. You may even virtually hop between multiple universities in different countries within the same program to really maximize your experience. CIS Abroad and CAPA provide hybrid options that are partially virtual and partially in-person, so you can start from home and conclude with a travel experience later on. Some programs are conducted in English, while others like GEO offer immersive foreign language environments and even a virtual host family experience.

Explore your options; the program that you want is probably out there! Each provider has a variety of programs oriented towards specific interests. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, you don’t have to count yourself out just yet. Remember that the concept of virtual study abroad is still relatively new, so keep an eye out for new programs or changes to existing programs that might come along to better suit your needs.

Why should I think about participating in a virtual study abroad program?

Virtual study abroad can be a great way to break the monotony of staying in the same place and doing the same routine for months. What better way is there to switch things up than to meet people from across the world and get into a new language? It also looks interesting on your resume and gives you something to talk about in interviews.

An important advantage to note is that it’s much cheaper than studying abroad in person. You save a lot on travel and living expenses, which can really add up in a foreign country. Tuition and fees for some virtual study abroad experiences start below or around $1,000.

Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by expecting a virtual study abroad program to replicate or completely substitute an in-person study abroad program. Rather, think of virtual study abroad as a separate, additional opportunity. Perhaps you never thought studying abroad was feasible for you to do at all. If so, virtual study abroad opens up an entirely new possibility for you. Prospective employers probably care more about what cultural insights you learned than about how much fun you had exploring foreign attractions and cuisine, so virtual study abroad checks the boxes that matter most. If your goal for studying abroad is more focused on the tourism aspect, then think of the money a virtual program could save you towards taking the trip of your dreams later on—when you won’t even need to study anymore and you’ll already have study abroad credentials under your belt.

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