As international travel was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UNL Education Abroad office had to find ways to offer opportunities to students without actually sending them away from UNL.

Cody Hollist, the interim director of Education Abroad, said it was a complicated process for study abroad when COVID-19 was first becoming a growing threat to UNL in early March 2020. 

“The first task was to bring everybody home,” Hollist said.

After all that, Hollist said, the next step was cancelling programs for the summer and fall 2020 semesters and reconstructing study abroad for an online environment. 

Once students returned to campus in fall 2020, the goal was to find innovative ways to foster global experiences while in a pandemic, he said. 

Hollist said the university was already looking at ways to shift thinking about global engagement away from traditional traveling of students to abroad locations because it’s not always realistic for students to be able to do that even before the pandemic, due to costs and other factors that could prevent students leaving the states.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic offered them an opportunity to really evaluate what education abroad is.

“It was an opportunity, born out of crisis, to figure out what do we really mean by global experiences and what are the different ways we can achieve that?” Hollist said. 

Hollist said they went to faculty for ideas and supported them in creating ways of teaching and training students in global citizenship. 

That included virtual courses and even partnering with local communities, Hollist said. 

“One program had virtual host families, and so students were paired with families in Brazil,” he said. “They did activities with their family in Brazil and students talked about how connected they felt to their virtual host families.”

Hollist said the pandemic made people realize that virtual connections can have a powerful impact and that doing abroad programs over Zoom is very possible.

But even with the technological capabilities available, studying abroad in person is becoming more possible. 

Kelsey Eihausen, a senior broadcasting major and student worker in the Education Abroad office, studied abroad this past summer in Seoul, South Korea, for six weeks, two of which were spent in quarantine. 

Eihausen said she planned to go abroad in the summer of 2020 to Sydney but ended up choosing Seoul due to Australia still not allowing education abroad in the summer of 2021. 

This was the first time Eihausen had been out of the United States, but she said that even though she was thousands of miles away, it really didn’t feel that far. 

“That was something that really shocked me, that I could feel at home somewhere that was so far away and so different than where I am from,” she said. 

Hollist said he wants any student interested in going abroad to come and visit their offices and get help because the process may be overwhelming. 

Eihausen also encourages students, who do have the means to do so, to study abroad. Financial resources are available through the university and programs to help with funding, she said.

“It’s a good opportunity to get out of your normal environment and kind of experience different things,” she said.