All of them also always tell us how exciting and formative the
experience of being embedded in a team that has a different cultural
background ends up being for them and for their professional growth.
Welcome to DePaul Download. I'm your host Linda Blakley.
Several DePaul students are interning with companies abroad this quarter
from the comfort of their Chicago dorm rooms or apartments. The virtual
internship program was born out of necessity, in light of the international
travel restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Joining me today to talk about these innovations in international learning
is GianMario Besana, associate provost for global engagement at DePaul.
Thank you, Linda. It's a pleasure to be here with you to discuss things
that are very, very dear to my heart.
Well, we've talked a lot on the podcast about how the pandemic has made
life more difficult. But there have been some helpful innovations as well.
Tell me about how the pandemic has changed international education for the
Certainly. The pandemic has had a great influence, positive influence
actually on international education and global learning. And when I say
global learning, I mean, the set of opportunities for students to actively
engage with content, with people, with organizations, companies and
communities with an international, intercultural component. And global
learning, traditionally, pre-pandemic, was linked to travel primarily
through traditional study abroad experiences.
But for many reasons, that model ended up serving only a very small portion
of the student population. And at DePaul, we've always very intentionally
tried to ensure that the population that we send abroad, our globally
mobile students always reflect the same racial, ethnic and socio-economic
profile of the population at large of our students, of our student
population at large. Because we use a targeted approach to scholarship for
first gen and underrepresented groups.
But still, even after all those efforts, in pre-pandemic days, we were
sending abroad roughly 1,000 students a year. And the question was, and
still is, what about the other 21,000 students? And that's where technology
came to the rescue.
At Global Engagement at DePaul, we understood that very early on many years
pre-pandemic, back in 2013, we started the Global Learning Experience
program, what is known at DePaul as GLE, way ahead of many other
institutions globally. In these classes, in GLE classes, students work in
groups with students from partnering institutions around the world on
The pandemic -- to go back to your specific questions -- the pandemic has
then accelerated innovation and creativity in developing other forms of
opportunities for virtual global learning, like virtual global internships
that you have mentioned, and in other formats. And I'm really excited to be
here to talk about these other opportunities that have increased access
significantly for our students to some of these fantastic international
This period has served as an access accelerator as well as an experience
accelerator. Can we talk a bit more about how virtual internships work?
What kinds of projects are students working on with these companies?
We had one film and television major, who was paired with an audio visual
company production in Spain. This company was producing a documentary on
the impact of COVID. And they needed on one hand some help in editing the
footage they already had, but they also wanted to expand their coverage to
a more international perspective. And so the student ended up, beside doing
the editing job that was the initial focus of the project, but the student
ended up also doing some shooting in Chicago and then incorporate the
shooting into the final product.
We had an international student major who was paired with an NGO in
Ireland. This NGO provides services to refugees and asylum seekers and the
student project was to do so some benchmarking and comparing the kind of
psychosocial support services that that particular organization provides in
Ireland with the kind of psychosocial support that similar agencies provide
in the United States. So it was a research and comparative project. And
this student actually ended up writing a blog that that is available on the
Global Engagement website, in which they narrate the experience noting how
immersive their experience was and how much a part of the team they felt.
And for the students are relatively simple. They apply online, the program
is run by our study abroad team. The experiences are eight weeks long.
Projects varies, you've heard but all the students who have participated
indicate very clearly that as a result of this experience, in virtual
global internship, they learn content, so they learn something new. If
they're marketing majors, they knew some new marketing technique. If they
are, you know, the international students major learned different way of
handling the support to refugees.
And all of them acquire virtual global collaboration skills, particularly
in dealing with their assigned supervisor because they have to deal with
this person at the company or the organization who's your boss for these
eight weeks virtually, in an intercultural setting. And all of them also,
always tell us how exciting and formative the experience of being embedded
in a team that has a different cultural background ends up being for them
and for their professional growth.
How have you seen participation in these virtual internships change or grow
in the last year?
We had about 55 students taking advantage of this experiences since we
started. And when we started, we started just with two or three. This is
probably the first example of a program that was born out of expediency in
the pandemic, that is turning out to be a great asset for our portfolio of
global learning offerings to the student.
And the students are honestly, really taking advantage of this because they
realize the great potential for the acquisition of skills that are indeed
marketable in this changed, new, almost post-pandemic world.
I have another question for you about the internships. Can the students get
the same cross cultural experiences when working with companies via zoom
and email, rather than being there in person?
This is a very important question. There is a difference between being
embedded in person in a different cultural environment, and being embedded
virtually. But the difference doesn't result into a qualitative difference,
meaning one experience is better than the other. The two experiences are
Certainly, if I'm on site, and I'm embedded in the local environment, I
experience the cuisine and the rhythm of the day, you know. The example I
gave you before of the students who work with the, with the Spanish
organization, if the students were actually living in Spain probably would
have to get adjusted to having dinner at 10 p.m., according to Spanish
custom. So these things obviously do not happen. It is a part of the
experience that is not duplicated in the virtual experience.
But on the other hand, in the virtual experience, there are other things
that happen, that could not happen in person. We are all now experiencing
this new way of working virtually remotely, that require a different set of
skills. And the virtual global internship helps the students acquiring this
set of skills that are helpful and marketable, and they could not be
necessarily acquired by being in person.
So again, I don't think it's a matter of making a comparison and deciding
which experience is better, because the two types of experiences address
different learning outcomes, and allow the students to gain different sets
In March of 2020, Global Engagement launched global conversations,
90-minute virtual conversations, facilitated by faculty that bring together
several hundred students from around the world. The groups have discussed
various topics, including the Black Lives Matter movement, climate change,
culture, and more. Our producer talk with a DePaul student has participated
in several conversations. The student is studying abroad in Merida, Mexico
right now. Here's what she had to say.
My name is Tea Preradovic. I'm studying Spanish and Communication Studies.
So I'm a double major. And I'm a senior currently in my last quarter at
I've participated in, I believe, about nine to 10 global conversations, if
not more. There was one session about refugees, which was really
fascinating to me because that's in general, something that I hadn't
thought of is, 'oh, how is that situation going to be treated now?
What are refugees going to have to go through now?'
I really appreciated that people were willing to express how things were
affecting them and affecting their families. It's just, it's a place where I
get to learn from others not from a professor, but from others
real experiences in one format about one topic. So I think that it's really
unique in the way that everyone that is their gets to share their side of
the story and like what's happening where they are.
Have you heard similar reaction from other students and faculty?
Yes, this is a common reaction of participants to the Global Conversation
either on the faculty side, but particularly on the student side.
This is something that my team is very proud of. This came up of a crazy
idea tossed around on a Monday morning, right after everything closed down.
And we were sitting in Zoom meetings, thinking, ‘okay, what can we do to
foster a sense of global community, for students who are right now, all
around the world, locked in their bedrooms, trying to learn and facing this
new situation and new reality?’ And, and we came up with this at the time
crazy idea: well, why don't we just offer a container? A container of a, an
hour, an hour and a half of an opportunity for students to share? Then, you
know, we build the structure a little bit around it.
There's always a DePaul faculty, and then faculty who across the four
cycles of this conversation that we've done since the spring of 2020 came
from 40 different universities around the world, pretty much everywhere
around the world. They get together, they make a plan, and then they
facilitate the conversation. These are not lectures. These are not
presentations of the faculty, but they are opportunities for students to
share global perspectives around certain themes.
Why do the online global conversations continue to be a popular venue for
cross cultural exchange?
It's the opportunity of hearing and sharing different perspectives from
directly from the students. You mentioned some of our conversation, the one
that you mentioned on Black Lives Matter was actually... slightly broader.
The conversation was do Black, indigenous, and Dalit lives matter? It
included indigenous populations in various parts of the world, the Dalit,
particularly coming from India.
And we had more than 90 students in that conversation from the U.S., from
Nigeria, from India, bringing radically different experiences, but of the
same phenomenon of traditionally oppressed minorities, and how the students
relate to this and how the movements that are developing in each respective
country have affected their own lives and their own learning experience.
And I'm part of the team that is facilitating having this conversation. And
I tell you, sometimes I get goosebumps being in the room and hearing
students sharing like deeply, deeply personal stories.
We like to describe the global conversation rooms as brave spaces because
students find the safety but also the courage to share things in this
container. We don't record them. Anything that happens there, happens there
and stays there. And students feel empowered by the braveness of the space
and by being surrounded by so many different perspectives at the same time.
And so many of them have the same reaction that Tea has. We offer the
space. We offer the logistical support. And our faculty, our students just
simply love it.
I can see why it would be popular, and a great way to engage. So what are
some of the upcoming conversation topics?
So we have a cycle, a new cycle upcoming from April 28 until May 5. And I
can't tell you what the topics are because we're in right now in the
process of making decisions. And we have the proposals, but it's still,
there's still a little bit of top secret around the conversation. But they
will be published on the website soon.
It's exciting to hear how DePaul students and faculty are exploring the
world and making new connections. Thank you so much for joining us today,
It's been such a pleasure, Linda. You know that I'm very passionate about
these things and talking about them is always a pleasure, with you in
I hear the passion in your voice. Thank you again. For more about
international learning opportunities, visit abroad.depaul.edu.
I'm your host, Linda Blakley. Thank you for listening to DePaul Download,
presented by DePaul's Division of University Marketing and Communications.