Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award

Summer 8-9-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Anthony Lemieux

Second Advisor

Carrie P. Freeman

Third Advisor

Yali Zhao

Fourth Advisor

Francesca Helm


Global citizenship education (GCED) helps students thrive in the multicultural 21st century world. Yet participation in study abroad and related programs in the United States – a purported “melting pot” of races and cultures – remains, disproportionately, the domain of affluent whites (Bell et al., 2021; Seid, 2021; NAFSA, 2020; IIE, 2020; Sweeney, 2013; Salisbury, et. al., 2011). In recent years, international virtual exchange (IVE), an educational experience involving sustained interaction between geographically-separated participants using technology and trained facilitators, has emerged as an affordable and scalable complement to study abroad.

Analyzed at the macro level, IVE has the potential to promote world peace among future generations by bringing students around the world together instantly for dialogue and friendship. In addition to language learning, many established IVE scholars contend these exchanges, like study abroad, can foster greater understanding of different world views and address socio-political issues in an increasingly polarized world (Beelen & Jones, 2018; Helm, 2013; O’Dowd, 2021). There is a large body of research on IVE for cultural competency development, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic (Marinoni & van’t Land, 2020). One under-explored area, however, is the potential for IVE to draw more students from underserved communities to the global world and the career and personal development opportunities affiliated with it.

Against this backdrop, this study seeks to learn from the experiences of underrepresented and historically-segregated students in IVE. To achieve this, I conducted a mixed-methods study using surveys to identify and recruit IVE participants at three large universities in the South and Midwest followed by one-on-one virtual interviews with a subset of the students to attain a more nuanced understanding of their exchange experiences. In addition, exchange field notes and my own abroad experiences have informed this study. Data from the study revealed six main themes: “Virtual connections beyond the classroom,” “Bias reduction,” “Color matters,” “Equality in digital space,” “Window to the world,” and “One step closer to abroad.” Findings suggest that sustained contact and collaboration with counterparts in other parts of the world strengthens participants’ self-efficacy, identity and desire to learn more about the global world.


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