SF State’s international program goes abroad, virtually

Plans had to be abruptly stopped for international and study abroad students when the pandemic hit, but they are still able to do well academically


Lucky Whitburn-Thomas

The entrance to the Division of International Education located at Village at Centennial Square at 1600 Holloway Avenue on March 15, 2021. (Lucky Whitburn-Thomas / Golden Gate Xpress)

As the Grand Princess cruise ship docked in the San Francisco Bay on Feb. 21, 2020, it signaled the end of a longstanding status quo of travel.

On Jan. 31, 2020, the Trump administration announced the suspension of entry of people from China; and on March 13, travel between the U.S. and most parts of Europe halted

This shift eventually made its way to SF State’s international and study abroad programs.

All international study abroad programs have been suspended for the past year, according to Noah Kuchins, assistant director of the Office of International Programs. As a result, the Division of International Education’s total operating expenses underwent an 88% cut for the 2020-21 academic year.

“There are probably, unfortunately, a lot of students who would otherwise have studied abroad but now are not going to be able to,” Kuchins said. 

Just because students couldn’t travel didn’t mean that the program itself was over, however. The OIP transitioned into an online space beginning in 2020. Although the program’s biggest pull was its travel component, for the past year, students have been taking classes from home via Zoom.

Even though we have all struggled this last fall, at least academically the virtual exchange students didn’t just succeed, they excelled.”

— Alaric Trousdale

The program currently offers the opportunity for students to do a virtual exchange, which has seen more foreign takers than domestic participants, according to Dr. Marilyn Jackson, director of the Office of International Programs. International students are able to take online classes at SF State, while the students that would have studied abroad are able to take online classes provided by their school overseas. 

“They’re getting to hopefully meet some people online and get a little bit of a flavor of the classes and the differences in the teaching styles,” Jackson said.

In an effort to keep the spirit of study abroad as alive as possible, the program rolled out virtual outreach session that highlights three countries that they “send” students to each week and host alumni to come in and talk about their experiences.

“Obviously there are time zone issues, where they have to stay awake middle of the night — or they have to wake up really, really early morning,” said Koichiro Aoshima, assistant director of the International Student Services & Outreach. “Some students struggled, especially when they are taking synchronous classes.”

Despite the main drive for international students being gone, exchange students in the program today have excelled academically.

“Overwhelmingly, they did fantastic academically. Straight A’s, after straight A’s, after straight A’s,” said Alaric Trousdale, lead exchange student and scholar officer. “Even though we have all struggled this last fall, at least academically the virtual exchange students didn’t just succeed, they excelled.”

The OIP has high hopes for the future, largely anticipating a change in circumstances in the Fall 2021 semester.

“We are operating under the principle that Fall 2021 is going to happen for study abroad in at least as many locations as we can safely send students and that will accept our students as well. And the same way we are hoping we are going to welcome students back to campus,” Kuchins said.