Local to Global in the Blink of an Eye

March 17, 2021

Psychology major and Asian studies minor Coral Moret ’23 is taking a virtual study abroad course tuition-free through Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan, one of MBU’s international exchange partner universities.

MBU’s virtual study abroad opportunities aim to bring the world to students. 

A new way of thinking about international learning, virtual study abroad has gained traction at colleges and universities in the United States and abroad since the onset of the pandemic. 

While staying safe is top of mind, the option offers a variety of advantages for MBU students including affordability, easy access, and flexibility. No plane ticket or hotel room needed. 

Through introductory cross-cultural experiences similar to in-person study abroad, students can engage with a host country and other students from around the world, right here at MBU. 

It also helps first-time travelers get their feet wet in the ocean of study abroad, preparing them for an in-person experience when it is again possible. 

Psychology major and Asian studies minor Coral Moret ’23 is taking a virtual study abroad course tuition-free through Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan, one of MBU’s international exchange partner universities.

When Coral Moret ’23 learned that she could take an international course virtually through Kansai Gaidai University — based in Osaka, Japan — during spring semester at Mary Baldwin, she was intrigued.

“I wanted to take an online course with Kansai Gaidai because it’s an opportunity that I thought would be beneficial to my minor and something interesting that I could do,” said Moret, who is a psychology major and Asian studies minor.

MBU has an international exchange partnership with Kansai Gaidai, which means that MBU students can study at Kansai Gaidai while paying their MBU tuition, room and board, earning credit towards their MBU degree. The Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement interviews interested students, oversees the application process, and submits nominations. 

“On Wednesday mornings in Japan, which is Tuesday nights for us, I meet with my professor and a ton of other students from other countries.”
Coral Moret ’23

“This year, when in-person study abroad wasn’t possible, two of MBU’s international partner institutions offered online courses open to their partner universities across the globe,” said Christina Harrison, director of the Spencer Center. “These online opportunities bring a wealth of cross-cultural perspectives into classroom discussions and activities, exposing MBU students to a range of cultures and worldviews.” 

Moret is taking a film course called Geisha, Gangsters, and Samurai, and there are a wide variety of topics available through Kansai Gaidai like Japanese language, business, history, or art.

“On Wednesday mornings in Japan, which is Tuesday nights for us, I meet with my professor and a ton of other students from other countries,” she said.

Part of the class is also asynchronous for film screenings and discussion boards. 

“The experience of meeting people from other countries, even virtually, allows students to experience many of the introductory lessons involved in international study and travel: those as basic as time differences or as nuanced as differing worldviews and values,” Harrison said.  

Associate Professor of Spanish Brenci Patiño led students on a study abroad trip to Oaxaca in 2019. (Patiño and Director of MBU’s Spencer Center Christina Harrison are pictured third and fourth from the left, respectively.) Patiño is currently planning a new course for May Term 2022, Study Abroad Virtually: Oaxaca, that will center upon the region’s culture as well as the Spanish language. (Photo from before the COVID-19 pandemic)

Brenci Patiño, associate professor of Spanish, Latin American and Latinx studies, is also working to bring a virtual study abroad experience into next year’s course offerings for May Term at MBU. 

Study Abroad Virtually: Oaxaca will open the door to Mexican and Oaxacan history, art, music, gastronomy, festivals, and literature, as well as hone students’ skills in the Spanish language. While there is a fee associated with the course, it is much more affordable than traveling abroad.

“I am most excited about sharing with our students the complexities of the human experience by learning about a culture other than their own,” Patiño said. “Through the exploration of art, music, cuisine, and more, I hope that they will be able to appreciate the differences that make Oaxacan culture unique. At the same time, I hope that they can see the similarities that make our collective experiences valuable.”  

Each day, students will connect remotely with a teacher from MBU’s partner institution in Oaxaca, the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca, to continue their study of Spanish vocabulary, grammar, and conversation. There will also be opportunities to speak with Oaxacan students from rural communities who benefit from the scholarship Guadalupe Musalem, thanks to Patiño’s ongoing relationship with the organizing foundation. 

“I am most excited about sharing with our students the complexities of the human experience by learning about a culture other than their own.”
Brenci Patiño, faculty member

Moret is applying to study abroad in person at Kansai Gaidai next year (conditions allowing), and her virtual study abroad course is helping create a bridge from MBU to actually being in Japan.

“The course is expanding my global awareness,” she said. “A big part of this class is learning about the three topics — geisha, gangsters, and samurai — and how they’re portrayed in Western films, and then the impact that portrayal has on Japanese culture and the reality of what they’re really like.”

The Spencer Center is also hosting a Virtual Visit series so that current students can get a taste of the learning environment in countries like Northern Ireland or Japan and speak with contemporaries about how in-person study abroad works.

“Talking to a student while seeing their environment abroad made it all seem real and tangible for our students on campus, and they can hear advice about how to navigate challenges or tricky situations,” Harrison said. “This dialogue alleviates a lot of anxiety for first-time travelers.” 

For more information on virtual and in-person study abroad opportunities through MBU, please contact the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement.

“These online opportunities bring a wealth of cross-cultural perspectives into classroom discussions and activities, exposing MBU students to a range of cultures and worldviews.”
Christina Harrison, Spencer Center director