By Ruth Ormiston, Gustavson External Relations co-op student. Photo: Skitterphoto on Pixabay.

When Gustavson announced that it would be continuing online learning into the fall term, BCom students in the International Business specialization went into the new school year knowing that their experiences would have to be adapted in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic – particularly the experience of an international exchange. Although Gustavson’s standard academic exchange program will not be possible this year due to international travel restrictions, 22 International Business students will still be joining classmates on another continent and learning from a top-ranked European university by participating in a new virtual collaboration with Kozminski University in Warsaw, Poland.

Gustavson’s International Business specialization (IB) prepares its students for careers in the global marketplace and provides them with language training, cross-cultural knowledge, and in-person international experiences. Typically, these international opportunities take the form of a co-op placement, a work term, or an academic exchange with a partner university. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has closed international borders and restricted global travel, Gustavson’s International team and BCom program have introduced an innovative way for IB students to gain international experience through a Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) program with Kozminski University, a Triple Crown-accredited school in Poland’s cultural and economic capital.

The COIL program is the latest endeavour in a 13-year partnership between Gustavson and Kozminski University. The two institutions have collaborated so that students from both schools enter the same cohort and participate in the same online classes. This fall’s cohort is currently comprised of 35 students: 22 from UVic and 13 from Kozminski. These students will complete five courses together: three taught by Gustavson faculty and two taught by Kozminski faculty. Classes are in English, and due to the schools’ different time zones, they run in the morning for students on the West Coast and in the evening for students in Poland.

Shawn Xiao, a current Gustavson IB student in the COIL program, says that he starts his morning at 7:30 AM to prepare for the morning’s classes: “It was bit difficult for me to get used to the schedule at the start,” he admits, “but [lately] I feel better.” Meanwhile, Kozminski COIL student Krishna Kant Mohan Raj finds the synchronous learning beneficial to his busy schedule. “A great thing about… being situated in Poland,” he says, “[is] I could work in the morning and study in the evening due to the [9 hour] time difference.”  At 8:00 Pacific Time (5:00 PM in Warsaw), Shawn and Krishna join the rest of their international cohort for online classes through Zoom and Microsoft Teams. While classes vary day-to-day, each one typically includes group work in breakout rooms, collaborating on presentations, quizzes and engaging with discussion topics. In addition to participating in online classes together, the students have connected through a virtual orientation and will have the chance to attend workshops tailored to their experience of international, yet virtual, collaboration. They have also been getting to know each other outside of class through social media platforms like LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook.

Kozminski student Krishna’s view of Warsaw as he participates in the COIL program. Photo credit: Krishna Kant Mohan Raj.

By encouraging collaboration and group work among the students and allowing them to work with international faculty, the program will remain faithful to the IB specialization’s most experiential component – studying abroad. Shawn, for instance, decided to sign up for the opportunity because he felt that it “[would] be a good experience to have lectures with people from a different culture”; he says that the COIL program is a “great chance to understand how to cooperate with people from different cultures” – an important skill to have as an International Business student and one fostered by Gustavson’s exchange programs. After Shawn’s first couple of weeks in the program, his hopes were confirmed: he says that so far, the best part of COIL with Kozminski has been “discussing…different cultures [and seeing] different opinions, especially when we are talking about some [of] Poland[‘s] culture… it feels great to have people who [are] actually living there to explain your questions.”

Through the opportunity to work with students and faculty from both Kozminski and Gustavson, COIL students will expand their knowledge of European and Canadian business practices, strengthen their cross-cultural skills and ultimately grow as global citizens. Furthermore, the COIL program will prepare its students for careers in multinational organizations and businesses. Krishna, for instance, is hoping to gain insight into “Canadian markets and opinions from Canadian students about international business topics.” He is excited to learn through UVic in preparation for future job opportunities in B.C. and elsewhere in Canada.

When international travel and in-person exchange programs are possible again, students in this innovative virtual collaboration will be equipped with a unique perspective on global business and a growing international network of peers. In fact, both Krishna and Shawn hope to maintain their connections from the COIL program once it is safe to travel abroad. Krishna has always wanted to visit British Columbia and study in Canada, as “life in Canada feels amazing and joyous.” Shawn, meanwhile, has his sights set across the Atlantic. “I have been [longing] for [travel] in Europe,” he says, and the COIL program is “a great chance to know some friends from there!”