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Spotlight on Walden // Jul 01, 2013

Adding Global Experience to Online Education

In the past two years, Walden University students have gone to London, Paris, Athens, and China. Though they attend an online university, this international travel has been real, not virtual. These students took part in Walden’s study abroad program, the first and only one available at any online university.

Dr. Lianne “Lulu” Williamson, BS in Interdisciplinary Studies program director in Walden’s College of Undergraduate Studies, oversees the study abroad program with Associate Director for Undergraduate Initiatives Keri VanOverschelde. At Walden, the study abroad program consists of international trips that last 10 to 12 days. “We call them study abroad and educational tours,” Dr. Williamson says. “The short-term study abroad is a new model because many students can’t afford to go for a full semester, and working adult students can’t spend more time away.”

Walden’s study abroad program is designed to appeal to both veteran world travelers as well as those with little international exposure. Though brief, the study abroad experiences are packed with information and undergraduates can earn course credit. Dr. Williamson says, “We’re not just tourists. The emphasis is on education.” Before they leave for a destination, students take part in a webinar providing content-based preparation. They’re also given a list of books to read and films to view. During and after the trip, they complete journal entries and reflection exercises related to their international experience.

Last year Walden, a member of the Laureate International Universities (LIU) network of higher education institutions, sent students to China as part of LIU’s commitment to President Obama’s “100,000 Strong” initiative. This initiative encourages U.S. students and educators to gain an understanding of China’s culture and people. In July, Walden will send a second group to China, and in the fall, students will have an opportunity to visit France and Spain.

Walden’s study abroad program incorporates a public service component in keeping with Walden’s social change mission. For example, students visiting Athens volunteered at a homeless shelter. In London, they painted an event hall at a community center in an immigrant neighborhood and helped a program serving homeless people by participating in a garden project.

International public service trips may soon become the newest option for Walden students interested in study abroad. Dr. Williamson says she is also looking into projects in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

That’s just one example of how Walden’s study abroad program is evolving. Initially available only to Walden undergraduates, the trips are now open to faculty, staff, and students from all U.S.-based LIU institutions.

Read reflections from bachelor’s degree students who studied abroad in London.