CAPA's Online Journal



This section offers space for commentary and further thoughts related to those essays published in Fall 2021. Deb Reisinger’s faculty perspective (December 2021) complements the contribution of Cathryn Bailey’s “Going Nowhere,” and directly extends the insights in “Teaching with Tech” offered by faculty from Hult International Business School, Katherine Angell, Alan Hertz and John Woolf.

These essays collectively remind us that faculty required to respond to the crisis very swiftly in ways that they could not have anticipated. The transition from in-person to on-line delivery was for many an unprecedented journey into entirely unfamiliar territory.

It is a tribute to the resilience of faculty in education abroad they were able to make radical transitions so successfully under such considerable pressure. Through their efforts, students were helped to complete their semester in a time of unique upheaval.

Deb Reisinger demonstrates that, out of a painful and problematic experience, there were lessons that at Duke University led to a new approach to summer programs that might meaningfully modify practice and pedagogy into the future.

The Editors


Learning to Embrace Virtual Programming: A Faculty Perspective

Author: Dr. Deb S. Reisinger, Associate Professor of the Practice of French and Associate Director of Markets and Management Studies at Duke University


As a faculty member who has directed summer study away programs nearly every year for the past two decades, 2021 presented an interesting opportunity. Whereas in the previous year, we were forced to cancel our programs—with very little time to plan for alternative options—this year allowed us to more fully consider new possibilities. Our students were desperately seeking summer opportunities, and I wondered whether there might a way to involve them in some kind of international programming, albeit online. Still, there was no pressure from my institution to create a new program, and we were all—students and faculty—exhausted after a long year of isolated, online learning.

This piece is a reflection on a “new” global education program created by an “old” faculty program director. Having led summer programs abroad for the last 20 years, I represent a relatively traditional subset of faculty directors whose fixed goals around language and cultural immersion have wed them to more traditional on-site programs that include family stays and language pledges. Even when I have created more innovative programs, all have been designed to place students in immersive environments that set the stage for transformational learning via cultural interactions.

According to Jack Mezirow (2009), transformative learning is sparked by a “disorienting dilemma,” or an experience that does not fit within a person’s existing meaning structures, and which serves as a catalyst for perspective transformation. Students inevitably encounter these moments abroad, and faculty work with students to reflect, to engage in perspective-taking, and to imagine how to reintegrate these changes in their lives going forward. Could this be possible in a virtual environment? And could we develop such a program in fewer than four months?


Study abroad plays a crucial role in a language learner’s curricular and co-curricular experiences and summer programs are particularly key in accelerating a student’s progress toward major and minor degree requirements; and for student athletes, short-term programs are often their only opportunity to study away. Most notably, these programs help facilitate cross-cultural learning and linguistic confidence. While it can be difficult to assess the importance of a three-hour dinner debating the rise of the right wing in France, faculty directors know the importance of sitting in discomfort and confronting new ideas. This is in part because we, too, depend on study abroad for linguistic and cultural immersion. As a non-native speaker of the language I teach, I must actively seek opportunities to maintain my fluency. These six weeks spent abroad help maintain my language skills and keep me abreast of cultural shifts that directly affect my research and teaching. Like my students, I listen to podcasts, watch films, and surround myself with speakers of the language, but nothing—until this past summer—,has ever compared to the transformational experiences of spending a few weeks in the south of France immersed in French language and culture.

After sitting with this idea for a while, and talking with students, our Global Education Office, along with an institutional partner abroad, designed a 20 hour per week virtual internship program supported by two courses that would both inform and challenge perceptions about France and the French. My hope was to move students beyond the “cheese and chateaux” stereotypes of France to a more complex vision that focused on migration and gentrification in Provence, looking specifically at two very different cities, Aix-en-Provence and Marseille.

While I felt confident that such a program would be appealing, I harbored some significant concerns. Given our collectively diminishing attention spans, increasing mental health issues, and Zoom fatigue, would we be able to sustain our engagement for six weeks? Was I prepared to develop and support two new courses? Would students have internship placements that were beneficial and engaging? Would they be able to make similar, or any, linguistic gains given the online environment, especially since translation tools are rampant and asynchronous learning limits interpersonal skills.

We decided to structure our program over the first six-week summer session, which would allow students to take two courses. For the internship portion of the course, we worked with our partner abroad to place students with companies, organizations, or individual entrepreneurs who matched their professional preferences. My hope was that these 20 hours each week would give students a more realistic and a more autonomous experience with the language. Our students have clamored for internships for a long time, but we had never managed to create these opportunities for them. To assure a satisfying placement for both student and internship entity, students submitted a c.v. and letter of interest, and interviewed with our partners abroad. They were offered a choice between two placements, which assured a sense of agency that helped alleviate any future complaints, and contracts were signed.


Because the internships were in France, the six-to-nine-hour time difference dictated our weekly schedule. Students generally checked into work via Zoom at 8 or 9am and worked until 12:h30 pm. Classes were held online in the afternoon, for three hours, with a scheduled break. Homework was limited to reading texts, watching films, writing short reflections, or preparing paired discussions that students would lead. To diversify voices and perspectives, expert guest speakers led weekly discussions on course-related topics. Class time was generally divided between presentations, discussions, writing prompts, short videos, and debates.

At the three-week point, I conducted an informal evaluation, which led to a reduction in course assignments. I had not anticipated how much time it would take for students to read some of our chosen texts, and I had also not realized that our tightly structured program would alleviate the need for the regular check-ins. Unlike an onsite program, where students had more free time to converse with each other in English, or just wander around a city absorbing sights and smells, we needed to build in this downtime. Their highly structured days were already spent reading, writing, listening to, and speaking in, French.

End of semester evaluations demonstrated these linguistic gains. 100% of our course participants stated that their French improved (20%) or greatly improved (80%) as a result of the program. Moreover, 100% stated the program greatly increased their interest in further study of the language, and 100% stated their internship strongly increased their interest in working abroad.

In terms of perceived changes, students noted significant gains in cultural competence, including an increased ability to adjust their interactions to others, to adapt to new situations in both personal and professional environments, and to notice subtle differences in cultural behaviors.

While this was one of the most challenging programs I have ever directed—primarily because I was two steps ahead of my students on most days—I was also noticing many of the gains my students had noted: improved fluency, a sense of immersion, significant gains in knowledge.


With any hope, we won’t offer another 100% virtual program again. These kinds of programs can be successful, but they aren’t sustainable. I’m not convinced that most students would want to work virtually next summer, or ever, but they might be interested in a hybrid program. Perhaps study abroad does not need to be 100% abroad. We might also save money—and time—by not having students go to work every day in person, or even to class. In fact, this might be a better way to manage summer programming. Faculty-led programs are known for being exhausting, with intense teaching loads, frequent travel, and increasing responsibilities that many faculty are quite frankly not equipped to manage. So, while our virtual 2021 program was worth it, we won’t replicate it. Instead, we will use what we learned to modify the program moving forward, from inviting guest speakers to Zoom into class, to putting students in contact with their peers in online settings.

Our 2022 summer program will return to France, but we will employ a hybrid model to embed more flexibility in student schedules. While synchronous meetings are important, much internship work, like much homework, can be completed asynchronously. Students will thus intern in person just two days per week, which will allow us to expand our reach to nearby cities; students will work from their homestays for the remainder of the week. We expect that this arrangement will decrease costs and also ease the burden on employers, who are often unsure of how to oversee and manage temporary work. Finally, although our classes will remain onsite, we maintain the flexibility to migrate to Zoom as needed and also to work with other onsite programs to pool resources for guest speakers. We look forward to seeing how the new configuration works, and whether this more flexible model will attract additional students.


Mezirow, Jack. 2009. "Transformative Learning Theory." In Transformative Learning in Practice: Insights from Community, Workplace, and Higher Education, edited by Jack Mezirow, Edward W. Taylor and Associates. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass-Wiley.

Author Bio

Dr. Deb S. Reisinger is Associate Professor of the Practice of French and Associate Director of Markets and Management Studies at Duke University. She is the author of Crime and Media in France, co-author of Community-based Language Learning, and lead author of Affaires globales: S’engager dans le monde professionnel en francais. She has been directing study abroad programs for the past 20 years.