Garrett Asper is looking forward to studying abroad in Central America once travel restrictions ease.

The first-year general engineering student from Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, got bit by the travel bug while participating in humanitarian and ministry work in the Dominican Republic prior to enrolling at Virginia Tech.

"Studying abroad has always been of interest because of the immense cultural exposure you gain. The prospect of finding new experiences like the ones I've had excites me and is a significant reason why I chose to become a Hokie," Asper said. 

For students such as Asper, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t dampened their interest in studying abroad. If anything, it’s underscored the importance of engaging with and serving communities globally.

With the university reaffirming its commitment to supporting spring 2021 study abroad programs, the Global Education Office moved its annual Study Abroad Week online to help students and parents navigate their study abroad options. In years prior, the fair was held on the Drillfield under a 100-foot tent with dozens of program tables. Students could speak face to face with program leaders and past study abroad participants.

This year’s virtual fair invited students to "enter the tent" through the Global Education Office website. There, they had access to live Zoom sessions and prerecorded presentations from faculty leaders, exchange partners, and third-party providers.

Nearly 600 students registered for the weeklong celebration. Eighty-five percent of attendees were first-year or sophomore students with majors from all colleges. Hosting the event virtually also allowed parents to take part.

"We were excited to see the strong turnout and interest during Study Abroad Week, especially from younger students. We advise students to start planning early because they’re better positioned to incorporate study abroad into their academic plans," said Shelby Dodd, global education advisor. Starting the process early can also open doors to more scholarship opportunities.

The Global Education Office, part of Outreach and International Affairs, hosted webinars on topics that included student experiences and funding sources. Additional information on the Steger Center for International Scholarship, Career and Professional Development, and Virginia Tech Global Safety were also featured. All of the recorded content is still available for students and parents to browse on their own time.

Virginia Tech’s vast portfolio of global learning programs led Emily Neel, of Lynchburg, Virginia, to the university. "Finding a school with a developed study abroad program was important to me. I was supposed to go to Spain as an exchange student in high school, but there were issues that caused me to cancel," she said. Neel is a first-year student majoring in human nutrition, foods, and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She plans to study abroad in Spain, first on a short-term summer program, followed by a semester-long program later in her academic career.

In the days following Study Abroad Week, the Global Education Office has seen an increase in advising requests from students looking to take the next steps.

The sustained interest serves as an encouraging sign for resuming Virginia Tech’s international progress, which was steadily increasing prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, Virginia Tech was among 32 institutions recognized by the Institute of International Education for achieving its goal of increasing the number of students studying abroad. Before March 2020, Virginia Tech was set to exceed its study abroad participation of 1,519 students from the previous academic year.

"Students have a chance to cross into experiences through study abroad in ways most communities don't — as travelers, not as tourists. This experience is transformative," said Jane Wemhoener, senior instructor and international programs coordinator in the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. "I often think of the difference of reading about music and sitting in a concert venue hearing, feeling, and absorbing it. That's the difference study abroad makes." Wemhoener offered virtual sessions during Study Abroad Week for the London Calling! program. Since 2008, she has led several study abroad programs to locations such as England and Iceland. 

Planning for spring 2021 study abroad activities is proceeding contingent upon program-specific reviews, public health and safety guidelines, and alignment with the university’s academic planning strategies. For the latest updates on the status of study abroad programs, visit the Global Education Office website.

Written by Rommelyn Conde Coffren