Studying abroad online from home

McKenzie Drapola, a senior nursing major, will be studying Spanish this summer virtually in Seville, Spain. Photo courtesy of McKenzie Drapola

By Sydney A. Stalnecker

Study abroad opportunities for Youngstown State University students went virtual after being postponed in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

McKenzie Drapola, a senior nursing major, originally planned to study abroad at the Nebrija University in Madrid in the summer of 2020.

Instead, she’s studying Spanish this summer virtually in Seville, Spain, but is not associated with a specific university. Drapola was given a custom program called the 2021 Online June Program through Spanish Studies Abroad, The Center for Cross-Cultural Study.

“I’m taking a beginner’s Spanish, so it’s like equivalent to YSU’s Elementary Spanish [course],” Drapola said. “It’s just like basic verbs and basic words.”

Nate Myers, associate provost for international initiatives, helps students get involved with study abroad programs. 

“They would have to reach out and contact me. My information is on the website,” Myers said. “We do regular study abroad sessions every Friday at noon, and those are drop-ins. You don’t have to schedule those. Anyone can just Webex in.”

The International Programs Office expects typical study abroad programs to return in spring 2022, and Myers currently counsels students for the semester.

“If a student wanted to study overseas in spring 2022, I would really recommend that they apply for [a] program, we nominate them in August or September,” Myers said.

Once nominated, students can begin applying for different scholarships to support their trip.

For example, Drapola was awarded the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship for summer 2020, which she found through the help of the advisers at the IPO.

“I received the Gilman’s scholarship and you apply online, and honestly I didn’t know about it until the YSU study abroad advisers told me about it,” Drapola said.

According to the Gilman Scholarship’s website, the scholarship encourages students to study diverse languages and cultures, especially those important to national security.

Another scholarship fitting the same criteria is the Critical Language Scholarship.

“The state department maintains a list of about 30-40 languages that our government considers important to national defense and security,” Myers said. “If your program includes one of those languages, you can apply for that scholarship and maybe get funded.”

The virtual program Drapola is enrolled in lacks some key elements associated with a typical study abroad program, such as travel, but she is excited nonetheless.

“I was supposed to live with a family over the summer, so I wanted to, like, get the whole culture experience,” Drapola said. “I’m still excited to, like, study from legit Spanish teachers.”

She chose to learn Spanish because she thinks it will help her in her future career as a nurse.

“I would like to learn it just because healthcare has a lot of Spanish-speaking people, like, patient-wise,” Drapola said. “It would be cool to be able to communicate with more patients.”

Studying abroad offers more than an opportunity for students to enhance their resumés.

“If you’ve ever had a thought about living in another place, meeting people who are different than you, learning another language, waking up in a different kind of a living environment every day in a different culture,” Myers said. “This is the time to do it.”