Global experiences continue virtually in face of pandemic for UAB students

UAB global engagement opportunities continue for students amid travel restrictions.
Written by: Karen Templeton
Media contact: Shannon Thomason

global 2Student photo from the photo contest "The View from Here" held by Education Abroad to engage students during this time of no travel. Photo taken prior to COVID-19.While travel plans for students have been sidelined due to COVID-19, the University of Alabama at Birmingham has not delayed in ensuring life-changing experiences for students seeking to go abroad. 

Michele Bunn, Ph.D., marketing professor with UAB’s Collat School of Business, faced the challenging task of informing students in her Innovation and Entrepreneurship in a Global Environment course that their business and cultural study tour to Italy had been canceled just two weeks prior to departure. 

“For many students, this had been a lifelong dream, and they hadn’t thought of much else for many months,” said Bunn, director of the International Business Programs in the Collat School of Business. “The course paired with the study tour provides students with awareness and understanding of the people and business climate of Italy and the reasons Italy continues as a hotbed for innovation and entrepreneurship. But, even with the travel component canceled, the course had to continue.” 

UAB facilitates more than 160 abroad programs around the world. The Education Abroad team supports students engaging in programs ranging from short-term and semester-long study to international research and service learning, as well as athletic and student organization travel. Students receive assistance in identifying programs that align with their degree program or area of interest, financial resources, and help with coordinating plans for travel and accommodations.

“From student applications and securing funding to preparing students and faculty for their experiences, a lot of effort goes into planning these programs,” said Ashley Neyer, director of UAB’s Education Abroad. “It was devastating to students and faculty not to be able to partake in scheduled travel. But as much work that went into travel preparation, that same enthusiasm and expertise was a part of the backup plans. 

“Our faculty are dedicated to offering our students international experiences, and it really shows in their commitment to build and offer faculty-led programs during such uncertain times,” Neyer said. “Students may not be physically traveling at this time, but they are provided opportunities for global engagement.”

With the business and cultural study tour to Italy sidelined, Bunn faced the challenge of providing a long-lasting impact on the spring 2020 study abroad students. Bunn quickly pivoted the learning activities to include virtual experiences, cultural intelligence, self-assessment and strategies to better deal with the emotional challenge of the pandemic. By the end of the semester, Bunn felt assured the students had expanded their horizons and were thinking more like global citizens.

More information on student-related travel recommendations during COVID-19 can be found here

As the effect of the global pandemic became more evident, “We turned our efforts to immediate program changes to reach out to students and keep them engaged with a portfolio of international business programming — minus faculty-led programs, of course,” Bunn said.  

Building on the past success of Collat faculty-led programs, Bunn developed over the summer a new course titled Global Innovation that faculty unanimously approved. Not only does this course provide international learning, it is expected to whet the students’ appetite for studying abroad in the future. 

Bunn explained, “While we are waiting and watching for safe travel, faculty in Collat are working on programs and courses that will continue on — regardless of students’ ability to travel abroad.” Such efforts will clearly enhance students’ international awareness and experiences. Collat faculty are looking forward to coming back with a strong and exciting slate of faculty-led programs for the next school year and courses that are appealing to an even broader range of students.

Across campus, the UAB Education Abroad team is working with faculty and students to keep them engaged in global learning opportunities and prepare for future travel.  

global 4Student Mara Kolb is shown conquering new heights in New Zealand. Photo taken prior to COVID-19.“We are meeting with international partners regularly to plan virtual programming and to prepare for the resumption of studying abroad,” Neyer said. “For instance, we are meeting with Aberystwyth University for our UAB in Wales program every six weeks to discuss programming, both in-class and out-of-class. We are ready to send students to Wales as soon as travel is safe again.”

Education Abroad is communicating with students to get them involved in virtual global academic classrooms, individual internships and group internships, including a new human-rights-focused program working with Clinica Verde in Nicaragua. It is difficult to replace living abroad, but virtual international internships keep students connected to opportunities around the globe while fulfilling course credits and forging new connections for future study abroad opportunities. 

On Instagram at @uabeducationabroad, Education Abroad helps students enjoy sharing travel experiences and plans, recipes from around the world, and tips on applying for upcoming programs. 

“Even with travel on pause, our mission to give the UAB community access to a global education continues,” Neyer said. “We are working with faculty and students on applications for study abroad programs so that they are ready to go as soon as travel resumes.” 

Nine UAB faculty members are currently participating in the Education Abroad Faculty Fellows program. This yearlong professional seminar aims to create new faculty-led abroad programs for students in the next academic year.

“While this situation is anything but ideal, we are using the time to strengthen our offerings,” Neyer said. “Although the future remains a bit uncertain, we recognize students’ commitment to experiencing a study abroad and will help them navigate any challenges that may arise as we go forward.” 

Choirs from Wales and the University of Alabama at Birmingham unite virtually in song of hope

Students interested in participating in current virtual programming and applying for future education abroad programs can contact or 205-975-6611.