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In an unprecedented academic year, with severe constraints on travel due to the global pandemic, several faculty members have taken a creative approach to offer international education opportunities that were initially intended to be conducted as summer study abroad programs. Though inherently different from traditional study abroad, faculty were still able to provide students with unique global experiences by adapting their international courses into immersive virtual learning opportunities. Brief descriptions follow.

Old Well
Old Well in spring. (Photo by Jon Gardiner)


John Caldwell, teaching associate professor in Hindi-Urdu, and Afroz Taj, associate professor in Hindi-Urdu, adapted their annual faculty-led study abroad program in India to an online format.

They have been teaching ASIA 228, Contested Souls: Literature, the Arts and Religious Identities in Modern India, through the Study Abroad Office during the summer for the past 22 years. The course explores how Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism interact with each other in India.

“We decided to offer it for a summer session so [that] we can at least virtually visit India with [students], so we wouldn’t miss it too much,” said Caldwell.

Transforming this course into an online experience had its pros and cons for Caldwell and Taj.

“On the one hand, this is working well because [many] sites are still closed to visitors during India’s lockdown,” said Caldwell. “[But] the internet can’t capture the heat, the smells, the flavors and the crowds of the real experience!”

The Summer Session I course was held mainly asynchronously, with one synchronous meeting per week for discussion and virtual excursions, which included videos of the places they would have visited in India, like the Taj Mahal and different houses of worship. Caldwell and Taj also assigned students to act as a virtual tour guide while narrating a slide deck on a location of their choice.


Robert Jenkins, a teaching professor in the department of political science, has taken students to the Balkans every other summer for the past 18 years as part of an Honors Burch Field Research program to meet with international organizations and learn about conflict. Jenkins teaches two courses during the study abroad program, POLI/PWAD 252H: International Organizations and Global Issues and POLI/PWAD 469H: Conflict and Nationalism in the Former Yugoslavia. Given that the courses are highly experiential, they required significant adjustments to give students as similar of an experience as possible virtually.

This summer, Jenkins taught POLI/PWAD 469H as a Maymester course. The timing of the course allowed him to work with the organizations that he would typically visit with students in the Bosnia-Herzegovina countryside and Kosovo. In their 11 class days, five included virtual meetings with organizations they otherwise would have met in person.

Collins Alexander ’21, a rising senior majoring in global studies and peace, war and defense, was looking forward to going to the Balkans with Jenkins this summer to conduct independent field research. Alexander found the meetings with international organizations offered through the Maymester course to be a “really eye-opening experience,” even in a virtual setting.

Xiaohui Zhao ’23, a political science major, is currently in China. Zhao was also set to study abroad in the Balkans with Jenkins, and while the online Maymester course was quite different from studying abroad, it provided an important opportunity to gain insight into post-graduation career pathways.

Jenkins values the opportunity to get to know his students personally through these summer experiences abroad. While not impossible with this virtual format, it just takes a little more creativity and technology.


Beyond these courses, other summer study abroad programs were offered through online and virtual formats. The 28th Yucatec Maya Summer Institute was offered as an intensive online course, continuing to provide students with a solid linguistic and cultural foundation. Students worked with Yucatan-based instructors and teaching assistants in class and in some group practice sessions. Since 1992, the Institute has offered summer instruction at the beginner, intermediate and advanced level of modern Yucatec Maya, spoken by 800,000-1.2 million people in Mexico (in the Yucatán Peninsula) and northern Belize. The Institute is organized by the UNC-Duke Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies in collaboration with the UNC Study Abroad Office.

Interested in Virtual Exchange Programs?

Carolina has also begun offering virtual cross-enrollment at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) in Ecuador, with students able to study in online courses offered by USFQ and participate in virtual research teams. This program has been made available through the Study Abroad Office, and plans are underway to work with partner universities to open additional, similar virtual exchanges. Applications for spring virtual exchange will open later this fall. Interested students should visit the Study Abroad Office website for updates.

By Rawan Abbasi ’21

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