Belgium Goes Virtual

The Spring 2020 Experience Business Abroad in Belgium participants pose in front of the Gravensteen Castle in Ghent.

In Spring 2020, the world was brought to a virtual halt with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the learning never stopped for UNCG students on the Experiencing Business Abroad program. After making it back days before borders began to close in March 2020, in 2021 the course was redesigned to be delivered 100% online for the first time. Travel restrictions on in-person travel turned into an unexpected opportunity for virtual collaboration.

The Experience Business Abroad in Belgium program is the result of nearly a decade of collaboration between the Bryan School of Business and Economics at UNCG and the Louvain School of Management (LSM) at the Universite Catholique de Louvain (UCL) in Belgium. This course is designed for students wishing to experience a study abroad program in a limited timeframe.

This program is truly unique among UNCG’s study abroad offerings. Students start the semester collaborating virtually, developing global teams and working on various assignments. Over spring break, UNCG students travel to Belgium to visit their Belgian counterparts, living in their homes and traveling together to visit businesses and cultural sites abroad. LSM students do the same when they travel to spend their spring break in North Carolina, with the coursework culminating in team presentations at the conclusion of their visit to UNCG.

As you can imagine, translating this model to an online-only setting was no easy feat.

Professor Karen Lynden (Lecturer, Department of Management) was up to the challenge. She is a veteran of virtual programs, having been involved with the X-Culture course and conference events for seven years. 

We are incredibly fortunate to have Professor Frank Janssen of Louvain School of Management, one of the founders of this long-running partnership,  co-leading this course.  True in practicing what he teaches, Dr. Janssen was an innovative collaborator in creating an engaging global virtual learning experience for our students.  He brought interactive guest presentations that included entrepreneurs and small business leaders, delivering live forums for all to discuss topics in the current business environment, with unique ‘doing business in’ Belgium and Europe perspectives.   

Although it’s impossible to replicate an in-person experience exactly, students hosted each other virtually, with the UNCG students trying their hands at making Speculoos (aka Lotus cookies), a Belgian national treat and LSM students taking a virtual tour of the International Civil Rights Museum in downtown Greensboro. 

Delivering the course online allowed Lynden to enhance the curriculum through offering pre- and post-project Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) assessment and feedback sessions with IDI certified International Program Center staff; providing additional mini-modules and lessons focused on environmental briefings and culture profiles; and enhanced course ending reflection journals. 

“When I signed up to take this class, I was not happy that I had to take it” said one participant in an anonymous course evaluation. “Obviously I would have loved to [have] been able to go abroad. Even though this class didn’t have any travel, it was amazing to form relationships with foreign students even over zoom/teams. I can say after a few weeks this class became my favorite. The professors put so much work in to still make the time fun for us and I’m so happy I got this study abroad experience even during a pandemic.”

The program is planning to return to the in-person short-term travel abroad model in Spring 2022. However, there are some lessons learned from 2021 that will make their appearance in the course. The ability to create the necessary modifications and restructure the course for a successful experience was due to many internal and external community partners’ willingness to adapt and develop resources and activities.  We are grateful for the UNCG International Programs Team staff, particularly Ms. Heidi Bretz, for working so closely and tirelessly with us to support our ability to provide excellent programming and intercultural learning opportunities for our students.  We look forward with optimism and confidence in knowing we will continue to work together to deliver on our Bryan School mission: 

In the Bryan School of Business & Economics, we create and disseminate knowledge about the theory and practice of business. In addition to our courses and research, we accomplish this through hands-on projects, global experiences, and outreach to the community. Our work produces principled leaders and exceptional problem solvers who have a global perspective, an innovative mindset, a broad understanding of sustainability, and a commitment to improve the organizations in which they work and the communities in which they live.