The Virtual Year Abroad: Facilitating Online Linguistic and Cultural Immersion of Modern Languages Students in a Global Pandemic
Submitted by the Year Abroad Team for Modern Languages: French, Spanish and Portuguese
(Dr Dominique Jeannerod, Dr Karol Valderrama-Burgos & Dr Tori Holmes)
In the context of the global pandemic prohibiting travel abroad, we faced an urgent need to provide an online equivalent to the Year Abroad: the Virtual Year Abroad (VYA). The Year Abroad is a compulsory element of a degree in Modern Languages, which develops independence and adaptability, intercultural awareness, and employability skills, among others. In 2020-2021 we pioneered an innovative modality to enable our students to experience the benefits of the Year Abroad from home.
The impact on the students was high and positive on different levels, as these comments show:
‘Thanks to the Spanish VYA, I was able to vastly improve my knowledge and understanding of Latin American cultures, which I would not have had the chance to had I gone to Spain.’
(Nasreen – French and Spanish)
‘The VYA has far exceeded my expectations. Whilst this year has taken an unanticipated format, this has simulated spending a period of time abroad in a way that I thought wouldn’t be achievable and has therefore effectively prepared me as I anticipate beginning my final year of study at Queen’s.’
(Adam – Spanish and Portuguese)
‘The three oral classes a week with native speakers in small groups were great exposure to the language. We also had an excellent grammar class and tutors to help us to prepare for the DELF exam, which is a great French language certification to add to your CV.’
(Ana – French and Portuguese)
Advice for anyone who might try this:
The VYA modality represented a positive and successful strategy in exceptional circumstances. The high level of student engagement and the creative work of our tutors prove how an array of activities and digital resources, weekly live oral and grammar classes, and self-study materials focusing on writing/reading skills and cultural topics, produced a powerful learning dynamic.
From the beginning we managed to embed both linguistic and cultural immersion in our virtual programme, echoing the dual aims of the conventional Year Abroad by exploring the language and cultures of French, Portuguese, and Spanish-speaking countries at different levels.
We are confident that despite the atypical year this has been for our cohorts, the Virtual Abroad journey proved to be highly enriching and rewarding. It gave students the tools to meet the core learning outcomes of the Year Abroad, developing a set of skills that they always bring to their learning after residence abroad.