Throughout the fall semester, undergraduate and graduate students traveled across the globe without leaving the comfort of their own homes. Through Zoom meetings and live demonstrations, undergraduates dove deep into the politics, culture and culinary delights of Cairo, Egypt, while graduate students and alumni in the “Fox Without Borders” program enjoyed a virtual immersion to Colombia.
So, how did these innovative programs come to be?
“I was abroad in mid-March with a group of Global MBAs in Colombia,” says Jessica Wassel, associate director of international graduate and global programs. The team had to change course quickly and return to the U.S.
Once it became clear that travel was no longer on the itinerary in 2020, the international programs team at the Fox School began to weigh their options: would they follow the lead of sister schools and begin planning trips in the distant future, or would they forge their own virtual path forward?
“When I was back at work and my head stopped spinning, my colleague Amy Kumpf (associate director of international programs) who handles undergraduate immersions and I went back to the drawing board. We started thinking about the main things that students get out of studying abroad and identified which aspects of that experience we could replicate online. We wanted to pivot fast and offer something meaningful.”
Two distinct programs for graduate and undergraduate students were created. For graduate students participating in the virtual immersion program, night classes were hosted over four weeks, with distinct sessions. During the first week, a Fox faculty member provides an academic overview of the country.
“Kevin Fandl (associate professor of legal studies) kicked off the first session by asking us all about what comes to mind when we think of Colombia,” says Rebecca Nagy, assistant director of digital copywriting at the Fox School and current Master of Science in Strategic Advertising and Marketing student.
“He (Fandl) did a bit of myth-busting and told us about Colombian traditions and how important tradition is to Colombians, including those associated with coffee,” Nagy says. “Even just learning about how many people in the country are part of the coffee industry was really interesting.”
The second session is a panel discussion with industry professionals living and working in the featured country. The panel included members of smaller organizations to multinational companies, entrepreneurs and various alums from the Executive MBA program in Bogota.
“One of the panelists, an entrepreneur living and working in Colombia, discussed launching her business during COVID-19 including her marketing strategy,” says Nagy. “They also touched on businesses that are popular, like fish markets, flowers, things like that.”
The third week features an industry expert that explains current events in the country. During the Colombia immersion, the conversation focused on the impact of COVID-19, the state of the economy and more. While week two focused on the micro-level of the business landscape, week three pulled back and explored it from the macro perspective,
The final week features a cultural experience—which can mean anything from belly dancing lessons to, in the case of the participants in the Colombian immersion—a coffee tasting led by Juan Pablo Villota, the owner of Cafe San Alberto, an award-winning farm in Colombia. Participants were sent a mystery box from the farm and told not to open the box until the final class.
“Juan Pablo said that, in Colombia, ‘coffee is culture,’” says Nagy. “We had the opportunity to experience that culture—to taste fruits and talked through the different flavor profiles. We learned about aromas and flavors in coffee and used the grounds that were sent to us from Colombia to do taste tests.”
“The experience will definitely stick with me. It’s made me think about where I am getting the coffee that I drink every day and who was involved in making it.”