GLOBAL-LOCAL INITIATIVES | The global COVID-19 pandemic presented LMU students with international experiences they didn’t expect. As the world adapted to life with a prevalent, highly contagious and deadly virus, Study Abroad programs were modified to offer meaningful learning opportunities.
The daily challenges were many – communicating virtually, and across mixed time zones, while navigating cultural differences – but they were met with a spirit of resilience and purpose.
“The experience of having a virtual global internship, especially during this pandemic,” said Jennifer Ramos, associate professor of political science and international relations, “has helped students gain real-world knowledge and skills that will serve them well in meeting and adapting to future challenges.”
After the pandemic forced the cancellation of the summer 2020 programs, the LMU Study Abroad team worked quickly, in collaboration with LMU Career and Professional Development and select partners around the world, to establish remote formats for a Global Internship Program for summer session II. This intensive program placed students with international companies and organizations and provided academic components of cultural learning, in addition to LMU’s professional development modules, mentoring, and career guidance.
“We had a cohort of 22 students participate last summer,” said Lisa Loberg, director of LMU’s Study Abroad, a Global-Local Initiatives program. “They successfully navigated the virtual work environment and an international setting; they now have something very unique for their resume.”
The students, representing LMU’s Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts, College of Business Administration, College of Communication and Fine Arts, Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering, and School of Film and Television, filled internships in six countries. The program partners included: Institute for American Universities, Foundation for International Education, School for International Training: World Learning, and The Beijing Center, placing students at the Jordan Health Aid Society, World Wildlife Fund, the Barcelona Metropolitan Strategic Plan (PEMB), and Film Doo, among others.
Cristina Pedler ’22, an international relations major, was connected with Institute for American Universities and did her internship with PEMB. She first connected with LMU Career and Professional Development to confirm her enrollment in the one-unit summer course and was paired with a mentor, Noemi Morell, during the virtual internship experience. Pedler and her classmate, Mariana Estrada ’21, also an international studies major, and their group chose to research the future of retail in the face of e-commerce.
“Together we met and discussed the trajectory of our research,” Pedler said. “We conducted research on three different metropolitan areas and compared their infrastructure and response to COVID-19 to Barcelona’s. I studied New York, and my other group members studied Los Angeles and Rome. We consolidated our research into a presentation to our supervisor at the end of our internship on Aug. 1, 2020.”
Estrada said, “I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed learning about Barcelona and creating new ideas to possibly help their retail and e-commerce in the years to come, all from home. I most proud of my group’s motivation throughout the weeks of research and our ability to collaborate and present our shared ideas. Covid made it very difficult for some of us to contribute some days and stay positive!”
Pedler said she is proud of the work she and the group accomplished. “We dove into an assignment that was very new to us – and to anyone, because not very many people have researched the effects of a global pandemic on retail activity before,” she said. “I appreciate the guidance of IAU and PEMB during the course of my first international remote internship, and am excited to visit the office in Barcelona when I am permitted safe international travel.”
She added that the nature of virtual internships is very different from an on-the-ground experience, especially with time zone differences across the ocean that “add an additional layer of complexity in communicating in a timely manner, especially when it comes to dealing with communication lags or misunderstandings from language barriers.”
Estrada said, “I loved learning about how different all companies and countries are in the work aspect, because it shows how important it is to know the various work environments that exist in the world.”