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Virtual Internships at UD

By Center for International Programs

Internships continue to play an important role for University of Dayton (UD) students, providing benefits that allow for personal, professional and academic growth.  Traveling abroad for an internship has the added value of providing students with the experience to increase cultural awareness, language skills and work experience in a different region of the world.  While the 2020-2021 year put a halt on some students’ plans to intern abroad, it also opened opportunities for the possibility of virtual internships.  This was particularly true for some of our UD students. 

Alexander Finney is a senior at UD, majoring in International Studies, with a minor in Spanish.  This past year he was slated to participate in an internship in Manchester, UK when the pandemic precluded travel. Luckily, the Education Abroad Office had prepared in advance for this scenario, offering virtual internships in addition to on-site options. The same third party provider for the Manchester Program, CRCC Asia, eventually placed him in a virtual internship in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean company’s focus is on sustainable travel and corporate social responsibility (CSR), an area of particular passion for him. Finney had to communicate across cultures and a 6 hour time zone difference. His primary focus was conducting research on companies in Zimbabwe that showed potential for partnerships focused on sustainable travel and tourism.  In the process, he dove more deeply into researching CSR trends in Zimbabwe.  “I learned valuable research skills, built efficient communication and rapport with partners...I also learned about the impact of structural obstacles and a lack of resources can have on a developing country.  I entered the internship with an open mind and gained invaluable skills,” Finney says.

Virtual internships have gained momentum throughout the past year, especially as conversations around equity and sustainability are influencing international educators' approach to programs.  Zoe Krzywda, Programs Coordinator, Office of Education Abroad, shared “Virtual internships are less expensive and more accessible opportunities for global engagement.  We have to consider that some students face travel, mental health, or budgetary challenges.”  Erin Gahimer, Senior Programs Coordinator, Office of Education Abroad, agrees: “Moving forward virtual programming will not be a replacement for on-site learning.  It can be another option to produce meaningful intercultural experiences, especially for students that have not considered these programs otherwise.”

Jee Hee Han, an Associate Professor of Communications, has taught for 15 years at UD, and specializes in International Public Relations, including an area of focus on tourism PR. She intended to engage students on an in-person study abroad experience in Sydney, Australia to explore elements of public relations in Australian work culture through internships and on-the-ground experience. With the pandemic, the internship pivoted to a virtual platform. Seven students participated in the program, and were placed at a variety of companies in Sydney: a non-profit helping survivors of human trafficking and slavery, several PR and marketing agencies, a communications firm, and a school of copywriting. UD students assisted in marketing, education, social media campaigns, curating content, and more. The placements were made possible by the third-party provider, CAPA, which decided on the best fit for student interns through survey processing and resume evaluation.

Han was pleasantly surprised at the highly effective adjustment of the students to the work culture in Australia, which she says “was relaxed and laid-back, not very hierarchical and highly collaborative.” Han further added, “the virtual use of WhatsApp text messaging allowed quick communication between supervisors and the students, and Zoom meetings allowed the students to air their ideas in a supportive team-oriented environment. Students were able to acquire skills for the workplace and largely enjoyed working with their supervisors, who established goals and expectations from the outset and welcomed feedback.”

The students in Han’s class had many opportunities to expand their global learning. As many of the students worked on social media content and public relations, they had to adjust key products and services to the cultural norms and preferences of an Australian audience. Doing so required significant research, communication with Australian co-workers, and intercultural sensitivity. “On the surface, Australians and UD students spoke the same language, and may even have looked similar with no more than a different accent,” Han reflects, “but the experiences of the communications students proved otherwise. Curating content for Australian audiences showed them that the nuances of culture run much more than skin deep.”

The positive experiences of UD students on virtual internships abroad demonstrate that learning to be global citizens runs deeper than whether one is on-site or virtual. As UD and other institutions continue to adjust education abroad to new realities on the ground, virtual platforms will prove attractive alternatives to traditional, on-site approaches to international education and intercultural learning. Kelly Brannan Trail, Director of Education Abroad, affirms that “though the technology was there before, it took a pandemic to more fully realize its potential. And while we do not see virtual platforms as a replacement for travel abroad, meaningful courses can also be created to provide some of the content often used for pre-departure, on-site and returning education.”