Getting a global education doesn’t necessarily involve traveling the world (though, of course, that’s a very fun option too!). With digital learning on the rise, it’s possible to connect with diverse communities, learn about international issues, and become part of a global classroom, all from the comfort of your own home.

While online study abroad may seem like an oxymoron, it’s actually a great opportunity to broaden your worldview and meet peers from far-flung locations. Programs range from courses with an international scope to exchanges that allow you to connect with individuals around the globe.

If you’re looking to learn about the history and culture of a specific place, dive into international relations and politics, or become a more well rounded global citizen, then online study abroad could be a great option. Plus, tuition fees are generally substantially lower than on-site alternatives and you won’t have to worry about paying for airfare, foreign rent, or other costs associated with traditional study abroad.

There are a number of reasons why studying abroad online may be a good option for you, including:

  • Preparing for a future trip or on-site study abroad experience by taking a course on history, culture, or language;
  • Saving money by avoiding costly on-site expenses;
  • Bolstering your resume by immersing yourself in a global classroom;
  • Maximizing flexibility so that you can continue with day-to-day responsibilities such as work or school;
  • Broadening your perspective by connecting with peers from around the world;
  • Dipping your toe into travel and international experiences without leaving your comfort zone.

If you are a high-schooler or a first-time traveler, the idea of having a solo international experience may be overwhelming. It can be helpful to first establish connections virtually and increase your knowledge of other parts of the world so that you feel more confident and comfortable when you do go overseas.

For folks who are seasoned travelers, online study abroad can still provide a unique opportunity by allowing you to create global connections while in between travels.

Since there are so many reasons to pursue an international experience online, here are the types of programs you can expect to choose from:

Courses about a specific region, language, or culture

Whether you are planning a future trip or are simply intrigued about a specific part of the world, there are a number of reasons to immerse yourself in the history and culture of a particular region. Many study abroad programs will offer online courses in topics that range from the history of a city to regional dialect to international relations and development. These courses can be great as a supplement to other studies or as a standalone program to help you achieve your international goals.

For example, CIEE offers Summer Sessions Online with courses such as “Contemporary Challenges in Global Health” and “Japanese Manga and Art”. Similarly, Salzburg College offers Virtual Study Abroad programs that provide virtually immersive experiences in Austria.

Many providers that offer traditional on-site study abroad programs may also have online alternatives, so it’s worth doing some research!

Exchange programs

If your main goal in virtually studying abroad is connecting with people from other places and languages, you may want to consider an online exchange program. Just as a homestay in a typical study abroad experience would allow you to create meaningful relationships with folks from different cultural backgrounds, an online exchange program can create similar global bonds.

In this type of program, you can expect to meet people around your age who are interested in forming international relationships, learn about a new culture, learn a new language, and practice intercultural communication.

The Experiment in International Living, for example, offers a Virtual Exchange Program for high school students that creates international bonds, fosters civic engagement, and promotes youth leadership. There are many other exchange programs that cater to different age groups and offer unique curricula!

Specific certifications or degrees

Deciding to participate in an online study abroad program doesn’t mean that you need to be interested in international relations or global affairs. There are a number of online programs based in foreign universities that offer certificates or degrees in various areas of study.

For example, you could study Jewish Education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, or Hospitality Management through Melbourne City College Australia, or Global Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. The options are varied and extensive.

Before embarking upon a virtual study abroad experience, it’s a good idea to make sure you’ll get the most out of the program by asking yourself a few questions.

What are my goals?

Since programs vary by length of study, discipline and subject matter, and style of instruction, it’s important to reflect on what you’re hoping to gain from the experience.

If you are a current student and hope to gain college credit, you’ll want to make sure you enroll in an accredited program that offers credit-bearing courses. If you are hoping to practice your language skills, you may want to enroll in an online language course or perhaps choose an exchange program that allows you to converse with peers in a foreign language. The best program for you will depend on what you want to learn, who you want to meet, and what you hope to do with the experience in the future.

Take some time to reflect on your goals and make sure you communicate those to the instructors or facilitators of the program you choose so that they can help you make the most of your experience.

What is my budget?

Cost is a huge factor when deciding to study abroad so it’s important to be realistic about how much money you can invest in this experience.

Generally, online study abroad programs will be more affordable than on-site programs. And not only will tuition be lower, but you also will save on airfare and transportation costs, not to mention the cost of foreign accommodation.

There are many reasons why studying online may be more financially attainable. And the numbers speak for themselves. You can expect to pay anywhere between $280 - $2,250 for an online summer study abroad program.

While an online study abroad course cannot replace travel, immersion, and on-the-ground learning, it can be a very valuable experience.

When researching programs, make sure to choose one that gives you the momentum to accomplish future goals. For many individuals who choose digital experiences, those online international adventures are simply precursors to in-person adventures. Choosing to study online now does not negate the possibility of traveling in the future.

So whatever your reasons, choose an online course that fits your needs and helps you become part of a global classroom!

Staying Connected

In the age of COVID-19, many of us are feeling disconnected from the global community. Here at Go Overseas, we think intercultural connection is all the more important in the face of a global pandemic. New technologies and digital learning can allow us all to virtually experience new cultures, learn new languages, and connect with new people. We’d like to encourage our Go Overseas community to explore digital opportunities and continue to embrace our global interconnectedness.

Last Updated:
May 7, 2020

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