UM Global Engagement opportunities adapt to pandemic restrictions

International travel has been suspended for University students for fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters. And even though abroad options for the summer and the 2021-2022 school year seem uncertain, the Global Engagement Office said UM will be making decisions as early as February. 

“Per UM’s International Travel policy, UM will review the Department of State’s Travel Advisories and Centers for Disease Control Health Notices as the primary basis for decision-making, but will also look at factors such as the availability of vaccinations,” Marja Unkuri-Chaudry, the director of education abroad and partnerships at the Global Engagement Office stated in an email.

Despite physical barriers to international travel, the Global Engagement Office has still been offering opportunities for students to be globally engaged. 

“We’ve been in constant communication with students whose programs were deferred and have encouraged them to stay involved despite the global pandemic,” Unkuri-Chaudry said. 

While UM students are grounded, a cohort of students from abroad was allowed to come to campus this semester, despite travel restrictions. Four students from a partner university in Spain were allowed to travel to Montana as part of their exchange agreement. 

Isabel López-González, an anthropology exchange student from Spain, is currently enrolled in in-person classes at UM. Before coming to UM, López-González received a negative COVID-19 test in Spain, and said that with the pandemic, she does not expect to return to Spain for her entire exchange year. 

Even with COVID-19, López-González said she has had a supportive and positive experience at UM. 

“This university is the best thing ever,” López-González said.

In addition to the students who were able to have an in-person abroad experience by coming to UM, Unkuri-Chaudry said that the Global Engagement Office has been working virtually to strengthen collaborations with partner universities abroad.

These collaborations include virtual exchanges, otherwise known as COIL courses. COIL stands for Collaborative Online International Learning. One such COIL course occurred in the fall semester as a virtual exchange between UM’s School of Theater and Dance and Sophia University in Japan.

According to the Global Engagement Office’s website, this course included a four-week module where students studied a play and opera based on the myth of “Madama Butterfly.” The course consisted of lectures, discussions and a final project, where students in UM’s costume design class collaborated with Sophia University students to create a “mood board” showcasing costuming ideas for the play. 

Unkuri-Chaudry said the Global Engagement Office is currently working to develop more COIL courses by connecting faculty from UM with partner universities. She also said that, even as students are able to participate in in-country exchanges again, the Global Engagement Office hopes to continue developing online courses. 

“I’m excited at how our virtual programs have been going with COVID,” Unkuri-Chaudry said. “I’m really proud that, here at the U, we have so many opportunities to be engaged globally.”

López-González has also been glad for the opportunity to study abroad. Despite COVID-19 complications, she said the exchange has exceeded her expectations thus far, and would recommend to other students that they take advantage of abroad opportunities. 

As for the rest of her own exchange, López-González does not plan to let COVID-19 be a hindrance.

“I want to live this experience,” López-González said. “I want to try to get an internship, and study with the people I want to… I just want to take a lot from this.”


Author: Mariah Thomas / Montana Kaimin