How the Global Education Office is making virtual study abroad possible


Alexis McCutchan / The Fourth Estate

With the new changes this past year has brought, Mason’s Global Education Office (GEO) has adapted and brought about a way to make the study abroad experience virtual. 

“While it can never replace in-person programming abroad, virtual programs are a way for students to still have an international and intercultural experience when travel is not possible,” said Global Office Program Administrator Brittney Harris. “The current virtual offerings provide lectures and meetings with local experts and group work with in-country students.”

The changes first evolved when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, eliminating any possible travel plans and leaving students and faculty at a crossroads of what to do next when it comes to global education.

“[The virtual program] fills a gap that kind of wasn’t there before — in regards to who can travel and who can’t,” said Global Office Program Administrator Kelly McNutly. “This program can be more accessible to students whether they are taking care of a family member, [have a] full-time job, or maybe have some health concerns.” 

Alexis McCutchan / The Fourth Estate

“While we understand the exciting aspect of travel is removed from virtual programs, they still offer students a unique intercultural experience and the opportunity to interact with others from around the world. All of our virtual programs have international guest speakers, and some programs even have the opportunity to collaborate on a project together,” Harris said. 

In the virtual Conservation Storytelling class, participants interviewed individuals in Nepal as part of their class-built documentary.

This virtual system has created new alternatives for students that can lead to better options if they would like to study abroad. It has received positive feedback since it was created and seems to be very impactful on students’ lives. 

“We have had 25 students do the program so far, and we plan to keep the program regardless of COVID because we view it as an additional option for students,” said McNutly.

The virtual programs will offer other options for places that may not be accessible to students, but some programs are beginning to return to an in-person format.

“GEO plans to run many of our traditional study abroad programs; we have students abroad this fall! With that said, we are continuing to monitor travel conditions worldwide. If necessary, we would be able to offer virtual programs in some cases,” Harris said. “We hope to have as many programs travel this year as possible, but we would be ready to shift to virtual if necessary.” 

With the changes from virtual to in-person, the cost of study abroad tuition has now changed and arguably can be seen as more affordable for some students. 

According to Samko, all virtual study abroad programs cost the same as in-state tuition, even if the student is out-of-state, coming in at $1,640 for a 3-credit course for the 2021-2022 academic year. 

“Because there is no travel component, we wanted to make sure students would not be paying more than any other class they would take at Mason,” Samko said. “Unfortunately though, the GEO program fee is in addition to any Mason tuition and fees for courses taken as part of the normal semester load.”

The change in tuition and possibility for flexible alternatives can be very positive for some students, and the program hopes to gain more traction throughout the semester.