Pitt offers remote study abroad programs this spring

By Anna Ligorio, Senior Staff Writer

This semester, Pitt students can explore the Himalaya Mountains or participate in a London internship while never stepping a foot outside their home.

Pitt’s Study Abroad Office decided not to offer any traditional study abroad or study away programs for the spring 2021 semester, instead offering certain programs remotely in place of cancelling them entirely. According to its website, these virtual programs give students the opportunity to gain valuable global experience without the need to travel.

Jeff Whitehead, the director of the Study Abroad Office, said he hopes that some of the programs implemented this semester will remain in the years to come.

“We’re trying to take what we like the most about the experiential pieces of study abroad, and pull them into a setting that is accessible to everyone,” Whitehead said. “We hope that some of this sticks, even when we do get back to traditional study abroad.”

Some of the remote programs include Pitt in LA, Pitt in the Himalayas and Pitt Global Virtual Internship. Dylan Ogilvie, a sophomore finance major, opted to apply this spring for Pitt Business’ Global Business Institute: Virtual Internship program.

“This program stuck out to me as a great opportunity to get some early internship experience as well as develop my global awareness,” Ogilvie said. “I’m hoping employers will see that I tried to make the best out of a bad situation during these crazy times.”

According to Whitehead, Pitt’s study abroad programs have always been popular. He said these new virtual programs will allow for more flexibility for students in the instance of another disruptive event like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve always been a very popular study abroad school, so we don’t expect that to go away,” Whitehead said. “We hope that our virtual offerings allow us to pivot quickly, so we don’t have to cancel on people like we did last year in case anything like this happens again.”

Study abroad programs this semester emphasize virtual internships, research and volunteering. According to Whitehead, these new remote programs will focus on experiential learning — such as internships, service learning and research — as opposed to traditional classroom settings.

“You can learn about Shakespeare the same way in Oakland than you can from England, so we’re not really doing that,” Whitehead said. “Instead, we’re honing in on the things that students really appreciate from the study abroad experience, which is experiential learning.”

Whitehead said he foresees a future in which students can use these remote programs to supplement their in-person experiences.

“You could envision a student experience where they have had a brick-and-mortar, downtown internship, but then they decide that they want to continue their professional development and take a remote internship in London or Sydney after that as well,” Whitehead said.

Additionally, with multimedia, outside-the-classroom virtual experiences will supplement these programs in order to get a sense of the area’s cultural landscape. For Whitehead, these programs act as an augmentation, not a replacement for typical study abroad.

“If you are not able to travel in a traditional form of study abroad, you can still get a much deeper look at some of these cultures and places and get a sense of what they actually look like, how they function and get to know some of the people in a meaningful way,” he said.

Even though these programs are completely remote, Whitehead said they have had lots of student interest.

“We know that internships are popular as components of traditional study abroad, so we knew we would have a lot of interest,” Whitehead said. “We had more applications than we had slots available, so we have spent several months now trying to improve capacity across the board.”

These programs do not cost anything extra to Pitt students, but rather are included with normal tuition, according to Whitehead. And unlike traditional study abroad, there is no extra cost for travel or housing.

“We’re hoping that this can help level the playing field across the board so that students have full access to these programs to fully globalize their experiential learning,” Whitehead said.

According to Belkys Torres, executive director of global engagement at Pitt’s University Center for International Studies, input from Pitt students heavily influenced these programs.

“Because the student experience is the core of what we do, all of this has been informed by student input,” Torres said. “We spent a lot of time sending surveys and focus group sessions throughout last semester to be sure that we were listening to student feedback.”

For Torres, these programs are important for furthering the professional careers of students.

“Students know that they are going to be much more competitive in the job market if they complete an internship in London than if they completed one in Pittsburgh,” Torres said. “Our objective is to provide those opportunities for students to become more competitive.”

Ogilvie said he was interested in studying abroad before the pandemic, and that it was one of the primary reasons he applied to Pitt in the first place.

“Part of the reason I applied to the University of Pittsburgh in the first place was because of its many study abroad opportunities,” Ogilvie said. “One of the programs that I was really excited for before COVID-19 struck the world was the Plus3 Study Abroad Program.”

The Plus3 Study Abroad Program is a three- to four-week Maymester program designed for business and engineering students. Although Ogilvie was accepted into the program, the pandemic cut his plans short.

“I was fortunately accepted into the Plus3 Vietnam program and began taking prep classes during spring 2020 but was never able to go due to coronavirus,” Ogilvie said. “It still annoys me to this day that I wasn’t able to go.”

Although Ogilvie is interested in a virtual study abroad program this semester, he acknowledged that there are some clear limitations to the situation.

“The big disadvantage of doing this program is not actually studying abroad while doing the internship,” Ogilvie said. “I would love to immerse myself in new cultures, try new food, attempt to speak a new language or learn the history of an area, but unfortunately that’s not possible.”

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