College of Education and Human Development

Connect Magazine

Return to travel

CEHD education abroad experiences resume post-COVID.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, close to 300 CEHD students enrolled in education abroad programs annually. Students participated in a variety of programs, from short-term ones lasting only a few weeks, to those lasting an entire semester.

“As a college, we recognize the value of study abroad,” says International Initiatives Director Marina Aleixo. “CEHD is fortunate to have generous donors who provide scholarships for undergraduate students enrolled in a degree-seeking program and participating in an approved University of Minnesota study abroad program.”

When COVID swept the world in 2020, it effectively put a halt to international experiences for students. Now, as travel has opened up again, CEHD looks to reestablish its programs and make study abroad more robust than ever. Many students consider international studies as one of the most significant and life-changing events in their lives.

“We are currently rebuilding our study abroad programs and working to increase student participation to pre-COVID numbers,” Aleixo says. “Last academic year—the first time programs were fully operational after COVID—we sent around 80 students abroad.”

Students traveling last academic year still had to navigate several challenges, such as COVID entry requirements, in-country quarantines and testing, masking, and adjusted schedules. “As a college, we also adjusted our programs in consideration of our global partners and local communities, making sure we were not exposing or putting others at risk,” Alexio says. “Keep in mind that students traveled abroad from September 2021 through August 2022, and there were still strict COVID requirements and protocols in place for most countries, including the U.S.”

As careful as these precautions were, they were not perfect, as Jack Pham knows all too well—his study abroad experience was cut short due to himself testing positive for COVID. Pham (’22 BS), who studied business and marketing education in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development, studied in Cuernavaca, Mexico, for three weeks during winter break last year.

“For the short time that I spent there, I learned a tremendous amount about myself, experienced the culture of a different country on my own, and gained a great sense of independence and desire to travel more,” he says.

Pham always wanted to study abroad, and Mexico was ideal. “I have previous experience speaking Spanish, since I went to a Spanish-immersion elementary school and studied Spanish throughout middle and high school,” he says. “Mexico was a perfect fit for me.”

Jack Pham enjoys a group dinner with his study abroad classmates in Mexico
Jack Pham enjoys a group dinner with his study abroad classmates in Mexico. Photo credit: Jack Pham

Pham’s study abroad experience involved an accelerated Spanish class with readings, writings, and presentations. “After classes, we would explore the cities, like Mexico City,” he says. “We would eat authentic foods, visit historical sites, and immerse ourselves in a rich and unique culture.”

Before COVID, CEHD sponsored five to seven short study abroad programs a year. Last year, it sponsored two, one to Thailand and one to South Korea.

The program in South Korea is a long-standing exchange partnership between Seoul National University of Education (SNUE) and CEHD. Many students enroll in the program to explore future teaching opportunities in the region. Lexi Wolt, an elementary education foundations major, says “I learned so much when I was in Korea. We had the best hosts at SNUE who helped us navigate a foreign country. It is one of my career goals to teach in a foreign country, and before this trip I had never been outside the U.S. I feel so much more prepared to achieve that goal now.”

For semester-long programs, CEHD students visited Thailand, Italy, the UK, and France. The France excursion is a teaching practicum and was created by instructors from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in collaboration with the U’s Learning Abroad Center.

Abigail DiTolla, an elementary education major with a minor in racial justice in urban schooling along with a certificate in autism spectrum disorder, spent three months in a student apartment near the center of Montpellier, France, a city by the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

“It was so interesting to compare and contrast the United States and French school systems,” she says. “I was able to work with students whose first language is French and not English. This was challenging, as I did not have previous knowledge of the French language. However, I learned that there are other ways to communicate and build relationships without sharing a first language.”

DiTolla says her experience in Montpellier was one of a kind. “I never thought I would have the opportunity to do all of the amazing things, travel to all the places that I did, and gain beneficial experience for my future career,” she says.

Abigail DiTolla (in purple mask) and colleagues on top of the Montpellier Arc de Triomphe in France.
Abigail DiTolla (in purple mask) and colleagues on top of the Montpellier Arc de Triomphe in France. Photo credit: Abigail DiTolla

Caroline Gosselin, who also took part in the Montpellier experience, agrees. “It was the best version of being on your own but with substantial support systems built into the experience,” she says.

An elementary education student minoring in teaching English as a second language, Gosselin was placed in a fifth-grade classroom. “We participated twice a week in their English program as assistant teachers,” she says. “Besides the academic part of my experience, we were encouraged to travel with peers in our program. We were supported by the staff to explore France and neighboring countries.”

Gosselin says the experience was challenging at first because it required her to place herself in situations outside of her comfort zone and develop a sense of independence that she did not have before. “I developed a new sense of self and learned how to adapt to the changing world around me,” she says. “It is an experience that I still reference now in my teaching English as a second language minor classes, where we engage about cultures, language development, and how language is taught through various lenses.” 

Caroline Gosselin (back row, far right) and classmates
Caroline Gosselin (back row, far right) and classmates take time to give a shout out to their home state in an elementary education lecture in France. Photo credits: Caroline Gosselin

She adds that if she had the chance to redo the semester trip, she definitely would. “Studying abroad was my favorite part of my college experience,” she says. “It gave me opportunities that were once in a lifetime and taught me more about myself and the world around me than I originally expected.”

This year, CEHD is sponsoring the South Korea program and is collaborating with the International University of Rabat to offer a program in Morocco. For academic year 2023-24, the college is developing additional short-term programs to France, Puerto Rico, and Brazil.

Learn more at CEHD International Initiatives.