With the Coronavirus pandemic having ensued for nearly 11 months now, international travel has become a distant memory for most. For college students, many had their study abroad plans canceled or moved to a virtual format. There had been hopes of re-establishing some programs this spring; however, with large parts of the world seeing another surge in COVID-19 cases, international travel chances are limited. Many colleges do not want to see a repeat of last spring, where study abroad students were suddenly forced to return home. Now it’s time to look at study abroad marketing in 2021 and beyond.
Virtual Study Abroad: The New Normal
Instead of canceling study abroad altogether, many colleges have attempted to provide for students who still wish to study abroad by offering virtual programs at a lower cost. These virtual programs include classes students already planned to take but through a specific country’s lens, the country the program would have featured. Utilizing universities’ relationships with communities worldwide, these virtual programs give access to abroad experiences through technology. They feature projects that allow students to learn about a different culture alongside their schoolwork. It provides a valuable international-oriented experience.
However, it’s not easy to market these opportunities. Many believe the real purpose of studying abroad is not about the curriculum but the experience. Students should fully submerge themself in another culture. In marketing these virtual programs, we suggest colleges remind students that the cancellation of in-person study abroad programs is outside any institution’s control. Focus on the advantages of a virtual study abroad experience. Ultimately listen to students’ wants and needs in crafting these programs.
Studying Abroad in the Future
According to a survey conducted by the Forum on Education Abroad, about 40% of its members do not know when study abroad will return to normal. 20% expect some programs to open up in time for the summer, and 15% say not until the fall. Either way, it’s a foregone conclusion that there will be uncertainty regarding international travel in the coming months. We do know that when in-person programs are finally able to resume, there will be even more opportunities to study abroad due to the many robust virtual experiences created by colleges. They offer a cheaper option allowing students to learn and immerse themselves in a new culture. Albeit from their own homes.
The study abroad outlook for the coming seasons remains plagued by uncertainty. With travel barriers, quarantine and testing requirements for every country constantly changing, we recommend colleges focus on marketing any virtual study abroad opportunities. Highlight their value to students for now, as it is, after all, a part of the new normal.