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What studying abroad during a pandemic could look like

The VSU history department is offering a virtual study abroad program in Poland during the Maymester 2021.
This program was proposed by Dr. John Dunn, professor of history, on Nov. 3 to help students earn experiental credit.
According to Dr. Dunn, experiential knowledge is obtained through internships, volunteer work for a nonprofit or study abroad which is required for VSU students to graduate.
Dr. Dunn said in the proposal that the virtual study abroad program will be a three-hour course at the 3000 level, and there will be a directed independent study offered to extend credit options to six or 12 hours.
The dates of the program are the last three weeks of May 2021, which will consist of six video calls, Dr. Dunn said.
The total cost of the in-person study abroad in Poland last summer was $3,274, according to the VSU study abroad website.
“The price of the virtual program will be the price of a normal three-hour course,” said Dr. Dunn.

“Whatever three hours costs is what this class will cost plus a $100 supplement, but Dean LaPlant has already offered me 10 scholarships of $100 a piece,” Dr. Dunn said.
The proposal states the expected number of enrollments for the program is six to 10,
“Some people can’t come up with the two or three thousand dollars to go on a study abroad program,” Dr. Dunn said. “Now they have the option to go.”
According to Dr. Dunn, the normal study abroad program takes place in Poland for three to four weeks where students have the opportunity to interact with students from the University of Gdańsk, wihich is in Kashubia, a province in Poland.
Dr. Dunn said the virtual study abroad program will be about comparing America to Poland, Georgia to Kashubia and Valdosta to Gdańsk.
“Three of the meetings will be meetings in which professors and some of our expert friends will be presenting ideas,” Dr. Dunn said.
Dr. Anna Mazurkiewicz, a professor at the University of Gdańsk, will be teaching the program in Poland alongside Dr. Dunn.
According to Dr. Dunn, Dr. Mazurkiewicz is helpful to students.
“She’s a real plus for this, and she has some of her friends who are professors that are willing to try to virtually introduce us to some unusual aspects of Gdańsk, Kashubia and Poland,” Dr. Dunn said.
Dr. Dunn said their goal for the study abroad experience is to have some interaction between the VSU students and people in Poland.
Dr. Dunn and Dr. Mazurkiewicz will be hosting 30 to 40-minute virtual meetings with students to talk about topics such as COVID-19 and comparing in America to Poland, Dr. Dunn said.
Polish students who study America and know English are interested in interacting with American students, Dr. Dunn said.
“We’ve got to make study abroad a little more different than your traditional class or it really doesn’t work,” Dr. Dunn said.
The virtual meetings will have the possibility of video tours, history of Valdosta and Gdańsk and connections between Poland and America, according to Dr. Dunn.
“I’m going to have someone get into a kitchen at the honors college and show people in Poland how to make fried green tomatoes, so they have a sense of food ways in Georgia,” Dr. Dunn said.
According to Dr. Dunn,
Polish people are friendly and have an admiration for the U.S., American food and the interest Polish students have in meeting Americans.
“The most important thing is meeting people from another country,” Dr. Dunn said.
Dr. LaPlant, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said the virtual program is a creative way for students and faculty to engage in the study abroad experience while protecting the safety and wellness of others.
“We are fortunate that our faculty at VSU and the University of Gdańsk have built a strong relationship which allows this virtual study abroad program to come to fruition,” Dr. LaPlant said.
According to Dr. LaPlant, students can connect virtually and build bonds of friendship which can lead to a successful study abroad program.
“Sometimes you have to use a crisis to be innovative,” LaPlant said.
Tayler Lawhorn, a senior history major, studied in Poland once before and joined a Zoom call to introduce the program on Nov. 9.
“Poland is defined by the people,” Lawhorn said. “I thought being in the Zoom call the other day reminded me how much it is defined by the people.”
According to Lawhorn, Poland and America have had a deep relationship since Poland came out of communism in 1989.
“When that happened, America kind of became the big brother to Poland,” Lawhorn said. “You can’t experience Poland without experiencing the people.”
The students of Gdańsk and Valdosta have a cultural bond because of the love for good food and hospitality, according to Lawhorn.
“It really shocked me how much it moved me and how much I would enjoy the virtual experience since I can’t actually go to Poland,” Lawhorn said. “It was a lot better than I thought it would be.”

Story written by Jonnie Brewer, Assistant Copy editor. Photo courtesy of Pexels.

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