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SNHU Student Spends Semester on Virtual Study Abroad

Kayla Barassa with the text Kayla Barassa '21 BS in Business Administration

Kayla Barassa '21 always knew she wanted to study abroad, but with no end in sight to the pandemic, financial means holding her back and the end of her degree fast approaching, she worried she would miss out on the opportunity. Nevertheless, she was determined to live out her dream, even if that meant she had to do it virtually.

A Scholarship to Set Her Dream in Motion

Barassa didn't think she'd be able to study abroad because she was so close to finishing her degree, but after a conversation with a team member at Southern New Hampshire University's (SNHU) Office of Study Abroad, Barassa learned about different virtual study abroad options and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program.

Ally Snell with the text Ally Snell"She landed on our partner in Chile, and over the course of her application process, it became clear that the pandemic was persisting and the university ultimately made the decision to offer their courses online," said Ally Snell, director of international programs and experiences. "Subsequent to this, the Gilman Scholarship did change to support virtual study abroad."

The Gilman Foundation's goal is to provide students with the means necessary to gain proficiency in different languages and cultures while abroad and learn essential skills for their academic and career development.

"When I first applied for the scholarship, I did not understand how profound the program's work really is," said Barassa. "The Gilman Scholarship is honestly what made it possible for me to study abroad."

Barassa, who earned her bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in healthcare administration, and a minor in world languages and cultures with SNHU, studied abroad at Universidad Viña del Mar (UVM) in Valparaiso, Chile.

"When I was accepted to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, I became determined to make studying abroad a reality," Barassa said.

Building Connections Around the World

Barassa made sure to enjoy every moment of this new experience and take in as much as she could.

"My favorite part about studying abroad was definitely how enriching my classes were. I deeply connected with each of my professors because of the intimate class size," she said. "Every class heavily incorporated cultural aspects, social issues and current events, so they were all incredibly engaging."   

Not only did Barassa make the most of her time at UVM, but she also excelled in her classes.

"A few of my classes were fully in Spanish, and while I am proficient in the language, I was worried about how I would fare in an educational setting. However, that nervousness quickly faded away because I completely understood my professors," said Barassa.

Barassa exceeded her own expectations and became the designated translator between her Spanish-speaking professors and other study abroad students who did not speak Spanish.

Being able to work so closely with her classmates as a translator allowed for her to build stronger connections in her classes, which ultimately was one of her best takeaways from the experience.

"I am still in contact with many of my UVM advisors and professors and continue to work on projects with them," she said. "Connecting and working with people all over the world has been and was an amazing way to end my undergraduate experience."

Making the Most of Her Virtual Experience

Studying abroad can be an excellent opportunity for students to learn in a different country and dive into a different culture. While the pandemic has made traveling abroad more of a challenge, it has also opened new study abroad opportunities.

Virtual programming will never replace the experience of an immersive in-person study abroad, but having the option to do so, as Barassa did, gives students the ability to live out their study abroad dreams and learn about other countries and cultures in a new and more accessible way.

"The vision of our department and SNHU is to ensure that all of our students have the opportunity to engage in an international experience, whether they choose to leave the country or stay in their own community," said Snell.    

Although Barassa wasn't anticipating her experience to be online, she made the most of her time at UVM and believes virtual study abroad is a good option for those who want the international experience from their own home.

"What I have learned and what I would say to another student is that the experience is what you make of it, and you can connect and have a genuine 'international' experience," Barassa said.

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU program that can best help you meet your goals.

Alexa Gustavsen '21 is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.