Transitioning to Virtual Exchange Programs in the Post-Corona Sphere

By Chihiro Aita, Intern
13 July 2020

When you hear the words “student exchange programs,” what do you picture? For me, I envision students traveling to foreign destinations and experiencing a culture different from their own through interactions with the local people, cuisine, and overall atmosphere. As exchange students, you have the freedom to meet other exchange students alongside locals. You get to enjoy the thrill of stepping outside of your comfort zone as you celebrate a fresh sense of mobility—the feeling of conquering the world ever so slowly. You are young, you are learning as you explore outside the safe terrain of your mother tongue and embrace an alternative reality: one where you reckon with a new sense of self in a new country.

So, when COVID-19 suddenly saunters into the picture and takes away all prospects of such physical mobility, prospective exchange students are left stunned with no way out. In addition to learning to cope with a global pandemic, these students are faced with the crushing realization that they cannot have the immersive experience they had hoped for in a new country with new faces, new surroundings, new everything. Universities around the world understand the students’ plight and are scrambling to adjust their plans for student exchange programs within the restrictive parameters set by the deadly virus.

Universities in the ASEAN region are part of this larger movement to embrace growing precautionary measures. AUN Member Universities recently discussed in length its strategies in light of COVID-19 at the 12th AUN-ACTS Steering Committee Meeting, which was held online at the end of last month. The discussion centered around plans for upcoming exchange programs among the different universities within the AUN. Like many institutions around the world, the inevitable trend among AUN universities is to design programs that would be 100 percent virtual for the time being. All activities planned during the exchange programs would be either cancelled or done remotely, much to the disappointment of prospective exchange students. But, contrary to popular belief, going virtual might also have potential benefits that could be carried out over the long term, even after we have come to coexist with the virus. When you think about it, virtual platforms could also have its benefits—such as cost effectiveness (since travel is no longer necessary) and accessibility, particularly for traditionally marginalized audiences that would need only a laptop to access similar resources.

For now, the Universiti Brunei Darussalam has decided to implement online modules with its AUN partner universities in addition to carrying out virtual internships. Similarly, universities in Malaysia like the Universiti Malaya and the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia are planning on cancelling all inbound and outbound physical mobility regarding their exchange programs. For the unforeseeable future, it seems that going virtual is the only safe way to proceed.