Provider Perspective, Virtual is Here to Stay
November 1, 2021
Salvador, Bahia, @jescudero.photographs
This blog was written in collaboration with Dr. Javier Escudero, former faculty member at Penn State and current Director of Brazil Cultural. Brazil Cultural, co-founded by Patricia Burgos and Dr. Javier Escudero, offers education and travel abroad programs in South America, the Iberian Peninsula, and Northern Africa.
A full year has passed since COVID-19 swept the world and all travel was stopped in its tracks. Brazil Cultural, had nine programs planned at the beginning of 2020 and only one was able to occur in Northern Morocco between March 1st-7th. The eight remaining programs were cancelled.
The sudden halt in their operations affected a chain of services and collaborators, which led to worry and concern over what the future may hold ー a feeling that many international educators know all too well.
At this time, they knew they had to take a step back and reevaluate the situation, educate themselves, and invest in educating others. Because when one door closes, another one opens.
Brazil Cultural Programs In Action
Prior to COVID-19, Brazil Cultural had already experimented implementing some pre-departure virtual options and encouraging virtual connectivity as a great tool for visitors and specifically for local students to improve language and cultural learning. This was intended to be a facet of their “Exchange Learning” methodology, which directly benefits participants on both sides of the exchange through meaningful academic, cultural and personal learning.
Their first virtual program was launched in April, a 45-hour online course, “Studies in Global Education.” The intent of the program was to train their collaborators in Brazil, Morocco, Portugal, and the U.S. with the objective of fostering diversity and inclusion in an online educational format, while increasing global and cultural understanding.
Now with their collaborators equipped, they began offering virtual programs to their partner institutions.
In November 2020, in collaboration with Purdue University’s Black Cultural Center, Brazil Cultural produced a Virtual Study Abroad Program highlighting relevant Afro-Brazilian cultural and historical topics led by 15 collaborators.
Brazil Cultural took the opportunity to showcase the intellectual and professional growth of their collaborators, who represent the Afro-Brazilian educational organizations that they partner with. The 4-hour program is available on the Purdue Black Cultural Facebook page, and you can read more about the initiative here.
With positive feedback and a high level of engagement, Brazil Cultural knew they were on the right track in creating virtual activities that are both engaging and inclusive, while also training students professionally and academically for future endeavors.
Since, Brazil Cultural has been able to work with other schools as well.
The Virtual Revolution, Here to Stay
“Virtual intercultural exchange increases local equitable opportunities in a new educational reality. It’s an extremely important revolution.” ー Dr. Javier Escudero
With over 40 years of experience in both participating in and delivering study abroad programming, he has seen just how much the international education landscape has changed, particularly in the past year. In his opinion, virtual global exchange learning will play a big role in education, training and service learning, both in current and future programming, and it’s here to stay.
"I don't think there is a way back. I think we will have on-site programs, but we also need to take full advantage of the opportunities that the virtual world provides, particularly from an inclusivity standpoint.”