By Sissi De Flaviis

In a year beset with travel cancellations, third-year Carleton student Ida Harkness has lost her study abroad opportunity in India that was to begin in January 2021.

Harkness’ semester abroad was part of the International Experience Requirement (IER), a requisite to graduate from Carleton’s Bachelor of Global and International Studies (BGInS) program.

Ida Harkness

Ida Harkness

“I was geared up and totally focused on going abroad in January, then all of this happened, and I had to pull out my application,” says Harkness.

Then, she enrolled in the course, Global and International Group Project (GINS3100), which offers global experiential learning through a virtual model. The course provides a unique opportunity for Carleton students to learn about international matters from home.

GINS 3100 is one of six IER options and the only one that does not require physical travelling.

“I definitely had my sights set on going abroad, largely because of the prestige associated with travelling among the student community,” says the third-year student.

“But this course has served me in so many ways, from professional connections to impactful and meaningful work.”

Marylynn Steckley is a Carleton instructor who launched this course in 2017. Back then, it was the first of its kind at Carleton and in all of Canada.

“We were ahead of the game that we never knew would be played on a global scale,” says Steckley.

She says these types of internships tend to be travel-based overseas opportunities, which present limitations for some students.

“We have students with different abilities, mental health challenges, financial limitations, and personal commitments. In my mind, this is not an equitable kind of pedagogical model,” says Steckley.

Virtual International Internships: Travelling the Globe while Staying Home

Environmental Impact of Travelling Now Reduced

This year, more than 20 students are working on 10 different projects with the National Newcomer Navigation Network (N4), a pan-Canadian platform that assists newcomers how to navigate the health care and social service systems.

Tamara Mahfouz, a third-year Carleton student interning with N4, says going abroad was not a viable option for her.

“I have four little sisters and I’m responsible for taking care of them every now and then, so it never made sense to go overseas.

“Now, I get to have the exact same experience and stay local with my peers and family,” says Mahfouz.

Marylynn Steckley

Marylynn Steckley

Since GINS3100 provides global experiential learning for students virtually, it reduces the environmental impacts of travelling, which aligns with Carleton’s sustainability plan, says Steckley.

“We have a responsibility to start thinking seriously about all of those aviation miles and the carbon footprint associated with sending students abroad,” she says. “COVID is providing a really interesting and opportune time for us to rethink experiential learning, particularly international ones.

“I’m crossing my fingers that the transition that everyone is making right now to find virtual internships have a lasting effect.”

Steckley’s environmentalist perspective is shared amongst her student, too.

“Changing my university career towards GINS3100 has allowed me to be more critical of travel and the normalized model of experiential learning,” says Harkness, whose graphic design work has been used by N4 in recruitment presentations across the country.

“This is a better way to be more environmentally sustainable and still have the opportunity to explore career interests, gain real-world experience and contribute meaningfully to an important project.”

Virtual International Internships: Travelling the Globe while Staying Home