BGSU designs virtual course to immerse students in Spanish culture

Course designed as cultural, linguistic immersion study abroad experience

By Bob Cunningham ’18

Even though Bowling Green State University’s Education Abroad programs have been canceled for Spring 2021 because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, students still will have the chance to immerse themselves in Spanish culture.

During normal times, BGSU’s program in Spain has an on-site director, and students take language and culture classes, participate in excursions and live with host families as a holistic approach to learning Spain’s culture. The program is one of the University’s signature study abroad programs that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

“Because we value this program, we brainstormed how we could still offer it in some shape or form in the time of COVID,” said Dr. Marcia Salazar-Valentine, executive director of BGSU’s International Programs and Partnerships (IPP). “This class will offer students an opportunity not only to practice their Spanish but also to learn about the culture of Spain and have virtual field trips. We already have a good number of students registered in the class.”

Drs. Susana Juarez, the on-site director in Spain, and Phil Peek, chair of the Department of World Languages and Cultures, developed an “in-house,” virtual class about language and culture in Spain. BGSU SPAN 3850: Virtual Study Abroad: Language and Culture in Spain, led by Juarez, is being offered in the spring.

The course is designed as a cultural and linguistic immersion study abroad experience and is a source to create opportunities for students to interact with the distant environment of Alcalá, the town where the BGSU study abroad program in Spain is located. Curricular activities will include guest speakers, virtual class field trips and co-curricular activities that include remote events with the BGSU/Spain program host families such as cooking sessions and family celebrations and conversational exchange sessions with the program's host institution's students or community members.

The virtual program is accessible, affordable and still offers students the opportunity to be engaged in language and cultural learning, said Michelle Ploeger, the coordinator for Education Abroad.

“When COVID-19 encroached upon our lives, it created a necessary period of pause for international travel,” she said. “Although highly disappointing, the Department of World Languages and Cultures and our office saw an opportunity to focus on some positive outcomes. Why not convert the BGSU Spain program to a virtual experience in the short-term?”

Studying abroad may be one of the most beneficial experiences for BGSU students, Juarez said. By studying abroad, students have the opportunity to take in the allure and culture of a new land and people, improve their language skills, enhance their career prospects, develop personal growth and make lifelong friends.

“When you study abroad, you find new foods, customs, traditions and social atmospheres,” Juarez said. “Studying abroad provides students with the opportunity to completely immerse themselves in a new language — and there is no better way to learn than to dive right in. Plus, students who study abroad have much higher chances of finding a job within 12 months of graduating.

“Studying abroad really brings out students’ independent nature and self-confidence. Also, when you study abroad, you make rewarding personal relationships with people from different backgrounds. These friends can also be important networking contacts later down the road.”

Peek agreed that education abroad offers many advantages for students.

“There's nothing that beats being able to go to a different country and experience culture firsthand,” he said. “In lieu of that, we tried really hard to put together a course that would give students as good a flavor of what it's like to be in Spain without actually being there — and Dr. Juarez gets all the credit for doing that.”

Peek said students can expect “as close to an authentic experience as they can without actually going to Spain.

“Dr. Juarez made the class as interactive as possible so they can experience these places virtually to see what it’s like to live there. She's able to bring that perspective to students, while also looking to engage with the Spanish people who live there and bring them into the classroom. These are all courses in Spanish, so they're getting the language and and a really nice immersive culture experience as well.”

For more information about enrolling in SPAN 3850: Virtual Study Abroad: Language and Culture in Spain, contact Dr. Susana Juarez at or Education Abroad,

International Programs and Partnerships at or 419-372-0479.

Media Contact | Michael Bratton | | 419-372-6349

Updated: 11/18/2020 08:26AM