Study abroad moves closer to home with new program


Megan Bertsch, Copy Editor

In spring of 2020, the Office of International Affairs worked around the clock to keep students studying abroad safe as COVID-19 rapidly swept across the globe. Ultimately this meant last minute flights home, cutting programs short and canceling those to come. Now, in the middle of the global pandemic, a question looms in the air for the OIA, as well as many other organizations on campus: now what?

“We want everyone to be safe and everyone to be comfortable, and throwing people into the middle of a pandemic, it’s just not the right thing to do,” Dr. Jon Stauff, assistant vice president for International Affairs, said. “How can we provide for students who want to have that type of international experience, how can we work together with faculty to make it happen?”

Though South Dakota State University isn’t sending students overseas anytime in the near future, the OIA has brainstormed several creative alternatives for students looking for an international experience right at home. They are currently working with businesses and organizations across the globe to create virtual internship opportunities.

“We’ve found that to provide some type of global experience while not traveling per se, but through Zoom and other media, we are able to communicate in different languages and cultural competency issues, helping students grow,” Stauff said.

With these new programs, students can still perform internship duties with diverse organizations abroad. This way students can build their resumes and intercultural skills in a more accessible way than ever before.

“We want to build up the virtual experience, so that it is something that a student that might not have been willing to travel can have an interactive, in real-time connection with something or somebody abroad,” Stauff said.

Stauff also mentioned virtual programs in the works for summer 2021, focusing on the study of the COVID-19 pandemic on a global scale. They are calling the proposal “Confronting a Coronavirus: Imagining South Dakota and the Upper Midwest in a Post-Pandemic World.”

“The Office of International Affairs proposes a year-long project that will allow students and faculty to study COVID-19’s impact locally, collaborate with global partners to explore new approaches in the post-pandemic world and create sustained ‘glocal’ relationships into the next generation,” the official statement said.

The summer program will collaborate with speakers from international organizations and intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations and European Union, as well as national government agencies and officials from around the world, to create a wide context study of pandemic issues in weekly sessions across disciplines.

SDSU faculty teams plan on creating programs that will touch on different areas of study such as Culture and Technology of Food, Health, Leadership, Design and the Built Environment, and Being “Human” in Times of Crisis.

“We’d like to get a group of faculty together to explore how our experience in South Dakota has fit into the global pandemic experience,” Stauff said. “It might be a way for the students who don’t have the opportunity to travel to participate in something significant with international flavor.”

For students who would like more information on these opportunities to come, the OIA is hosting their annual study abroad fair on Zoom this year, calling it the Virtual Education Abroad Fair, scheduled for Oct. 8-9, 2020. They say their office is also busier than ever with first year students interested in studying abroad and encourage scheduling a virtual meeting to discuss future study abroad opportunities.

Though these new virtual opportunities were born out of cancelations and travel restrictions, the OIA is excited to offer a wider variety of study abroad options to students. The OIA has high hopes that these new accessible opportunities will complement the traditional study abroad experience and will far outlive the current pandemic.

“I’m hoping at the end of this pandemic, we will be back on planes and traveling, but we’re also gonna have opportunities to have meaningful global experiences without leaving home,” Stauff said.