Virtual exchange: An opportunity for anyone to study abroad

Milenne Quinonez , Staff Reporter

CWU’s virtual exchange language partner program is a unique way for students to participate in what is almost like a virtual study abroad. This virtual exchange opportunity began in 2020, and has allowed students in language courses such as Japanese and Chinese and the Mexican culture class to partner with students at international partner universities. 

Dean of Extended and Global Education, Ediz Kaykayoglu, said “we want to make sure that we have more of CWU students having international education experiences and having cross cultural experiences and exposure to other cultures.” 

Kaykayoglu said there are many students who may not have the opportunity to study abroad, or there are students who have studied abroad but may want to further their knowledge, which is how the idea of international virtual exchange came to be. Kaykayoglu said this had been an ongoing idea for three or four years, but in the last two years they were wanting to revamp it at the level it is being done now. 

Post-pandemic, Kaykayoglu said, this program will continue to be a part of CWU. He said the pandemic increased student interest in the virtual program. 

“When the pandemic hit mobility became more difficult, so this just allowed us to increase that,” Kaykayoglu said.

The virtual exchange offers many different forms, according to Associate Director of Study Abroad, Steve Cook. Cook said in spring quarter of 2020, the Department of World Languages and Culture professors set up virtual language exchanges in Japanese, Chinese, Mandarin, Korean and Russian. 

This was done with the partners in those countries, partner students were matched up with CWU students who could volunteer to meet outside of class with the students from abroad to further talk about culture and practice language.

Cook said Professor Joshua Nelson-Ichido in the Communication Department was able to collaborate with a Turkish university for his intercultural communication class in spring 2020. Students in the class had virtual meetings with the students in Turkey and set up a one-on-one pen pal.

According to Kaykayoglu, over 100 CWU students have joined the virtual exchange interactions since spring 2020, and more than 150 international partnered students are being enrolled. 

He said he recognizes that there are a number of reasons why students do not have the opportunity to study abroad, be it expenses or the time.

“We are not replacing studying abroad, because the studying abroad experience is a very important part of your college experience,” said Kaykayoglu. “Our goal is to have more and more CWU students to have international education experiences.”

Cook said a professor in the college of education professional studies had personal experiences in Honduras and had previously taken students in the past for bilingual ed classes, but was not able to this time because of the pandemic and ongoing issues in Honduras. However, that professor has chosen to do a virtual study abroad with partners in Honduras so students are still able to work with them. 

“One of the benefits of virtual exchange, it does have the opportunity to make connections with areas where we can’t physically travel,” Cook said.