The International Exchange Goes Virtual

Because of travel restrictions due to COVID-19, the University of Victoria and Kozminski University have partnered to reimagine the international exchange program.
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IN LIGHT OF the pandemic, business schools have had to reconsider the concept of an international exchange—a pivotal moment in the academic career of many business students. At the University of Victoria’s Gustavson School of Business in British Columbia, Canada, we knew that our standard exchange program would not be possible in the 2020–2021 academic year because of travel restrictions. But we still wanted to give undergraduates in our international business (IB) specialization a chance to meet colleagues from a top-ranked European university.

This fall, we began partnering with Kozminski University in Warsaw, Poland, on a Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) program. The State University of New York coined the term COIL to describe a cohort-based program in which all students take the same courses and are on the same teams in all their courses. Twenty-two students from Gustavson and 13 students from KU are participating in our first COIL.


International business is one of three specializations available for students in the Gustavson School’s bachelor of commerce (BCom) program, and students take it during their fourth year. IB prepares these students for careers in the global marketplace by providing them with language training, cross-cultural knowledge, and international experiences. These international opportunities are typically in person and take the form of co-op placements, team projects, or academic exchanges with partner universities.

“International experience is fundamentally important to fostering the leaders the world needs,” notes Saul Klein, dean of the Gustavson School. “During these challenging times, it is essential to continue offering this crucial experience safely and accessibly.”

To replace the in-person international experience, Gustavson and KU designed a COIL that allows students from both schools to share the same learning experience. Because the program encourages collaboration and allows students to work with international faculty, the program remains faithful to the IB specialization’s most experiential component—learning another culture by studying abroad.

The program’s collaborative cohort format enables students “not only to foster their teamwork skills but also experience a multicultural exchange as close to reality as it can get during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Krzysztof Chmielewski, vice dean of the College of Management at Kozminski University.


During the COIL program, students participate simultaneously in synchronous courses. Because there is a nine-hour time difference between Victoria and Warsaw, students in Canada attend classes in the morning, and students in Poland attend in the evening. All courses are taught in English.

After meeting in a virtual orientation, students complete five virtual courses together. Gustavson professors teach strategic management, cross-national management, and international finance, while Kozminski faculty teach one class on international marketing and one on social entrepreneurship and new venture creations.


In addition, the schools are offering workshops designed to enhance virtual international collaborations. Gustavson’s workshop focuses on how students can succeed in an online classroom, while Kozminski’s emphasizes interpersonal relations. Students also are supported by the international program offices at both institutions.


While travel restrictions have had a deep impact on international business programs, we feel the COIL model offers a host of benefits. Because students interact with peers and faculty from both institutions, they expand their knowledge of businesses in Europe and Canada. They enhance their cross-cultural skills, develop international peer networks, and ultimately grow as global citizens. Students who participate in virtual international exchanges are also better prepared to pursue careers in multinational organizations or to work in fields such as sales, marketing, banking, consulting, and economics.

Just because students are learning online and working from home does not mean they cannot expand their worldviews and gain insight into international business practices. And when in-person international exchange programs are possible again, we feel that IB students who participate in the virtual exchange will have fresh perspectives on global business. They’ll also have a unique bond with students more than 8,000 kilometers away.

Ruth Ormiston is the current external relations co-op student for the Gustavson School of Business and a master’s student in English literature at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.