The COVID-19 pandemic may have affected the study abroad plans of many students, but Kiran Karwal has been able to do it from home thanks to a new Kwantlen Polytechnic University initiative.
Karwal, a third-year interior design student in the Wilson School of Design, is studying remotely at Elisava Design School in Barcelona.
“Though I may not get to completely experience Spain as a whole due to the program being online, I feel as though I am still getting benefits,” says Karwal. “I get to meet new people and learn about different cultures whilst also being taught in a different education system, which is always interesting.”
KPU International received almost $25,000 from Colleges and Institutes Canada, through the Government of Canada’s Outbound Mobility Pilot Program, to help facilitate study abroad learning online and encourage traditionally underrepresented populations to try international learning experiences. This included designing and administering awards for a new virtual exchange program that provides an innovative solution to the restrictions on international travel.
“This is a great opportunity for students to experience international exchanges despite the pandemic. Although virtual exchange opportunities do not provide the full experience of travelling and studying abroad, this alternative does delivery intercultural outcomes through the creative use of technology,” says Carole St. Laurent, associate vice-president KPU international. “We’re grateful that our students are still able to participate in an intercultural exchange program given the current pause of in-person classroom experience and travel restrictions.”
The Virtual Exchange Award has helped early adopters of the program to experience intercultural learning virtually, for free.
“Intercultural learning doesn’t stop just because we’re restricted physically,” says Ada Lee, global development manager at KPU International. “With this belief, we’ve begun using technology innovatively to still recreate an international learning experience, very much like the rest of the institution.”
Although students like Karwal don’t see the architecture, taste the cuisine and or meet locals in their exchange country, they are still gaining experience.
“The virtual experiences give you fast access to connections you might not get otherwise, and the platform to create meaningful dialogue,” says Lee. “Intercultural understanding begins when you are able to see things from a different perspective and keep an open-mind.
“Perhaps most importantly, you’re doing this at a fraction of the cost that would be to buy a ticket, pay for accommodation, and all other related travel expenses. Virtual exchanges are not meant to replace traditional mobility, but be a very viable option for those who cannot travel, whether it is a physical disability or financial circumstances that limits you.”
Lee adds that while this is a pilot program, they hope to continue the program beyond the pandemic.
“We’ll review the success of these programs after the program concludes, but we wish to continue virtual programming post-pandemic as this is a great alternative option for our students. It aligns greatly with our hope of increasing access to intercultural experiences for all students. Developing intercultural competencies should not be an elitist experience.”
Karwal says the time difference hasn’t affected her and fits into her schedule. And she hopes to one day travel to Barcelona.
“Although right now I am studying online and connecting with people online, I would definitely love to go to Barcelona! And even maybe meet some of the people I have met through my classes. And this experience has made those introductions for me.”