You will not get a better practice than this program, says Notre Dame’s second, Fritz Holzgrefe.
At a time when practices are scarce and international opportunities are even scarce, a statement like this stands out.
Holzgrefe, one of 128 students who participated in the Notre Dames Virtual Global Professional Experience (vGPE), was reflecting on the unique nature of this opportunity.
Virtual Global Professional Experience allows students to work with an international company or organization for six to seven weeks – all remotely, from their homes. Notre Dame International provided students with virtual internships with 78 companies and organizations in 10 international countries, including Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and the East, South and Southeast Asia.
Holzgrefe was involved in the first iteration of programs during the extended winter break in recent years. With degrees in international economics and global affairs, he was excited to find an experience that combined some of his interests.
I was really looking around all the fountains that Notre Dame had, and this one was especially connected to me, he says. Any international experience I could gain during COVID would be greatly appreciated.
He first worked with Yahd Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, in Jerusalem. Holzgrefe helped with a project to determine which parts of the Holocaust were over or under-researched in European universities.
After enjoying his first vGPE experience, Holzgrefe applied again for the program over the summer. This time, he paired up with ACTED, a French humanitarian aid organization, on climate change research and disaster preparedness.
Between his first and second placements, Holzgrefe noticed some improvements in the program, including the grade taken by each vGPE participant. In class, students expand their knowledge about international business and discuss their experiences with students in different countries. The class shifted from weekly meetings to just four meetings during the program, which he noted was much more manageable.
During the two sessions, students were introduced to their particular areas of interest, collectively reading over 25,000 pages in books that enhanced their knowledge about industries in their international countries. They also write more than 1,400 pages in reflections on career diversity, global competencies and intercultural learning.
The class was a prominent feature for another vGPE student, Emily Perry, a sophomore in Mathematics and Applied Statistics and Computing. For Emily, the vGPE class created a sense of unity with students in both similar countries and completely different regions.
I was actually surprised; many of us had similar experiences in common, she recalls.
Perry is no stranger to international learning. Originally from New York, she attended an international school in Singapore before returning to the US for high school. Another of her international experiences involves teaching English to Cambodians, a project she continued for four years.
Perry used her prior international knowledge to help her settle into the Rawabi Foundation, a Palestinian nonprofit that runs a wide range of programs to promote job creation. One of their focuses is city planning; Rawabi is the first Palestinian city planned and built for Palestinians.
Perry acted as a marketing intern, mainly monitoring English media coverage in relation to the Rawabi Foundation and any similar organization. She also created action plans for Rawabis social media accounts, keeping track of trending topics and suggesting improvements.
Although this experience was not directly related to her intended direction, she was able to expand her international learning and explore new opportunities.
“What Rawabi is doing is really interesting to me, and I think I may have discovered a new interest through this program,” she says.
Learning about city planning and how they use architecture to create a livelihood for Palestinians, in the midst of all the conflict, is simply extremely interesting to me. I think it combines some of my previous interests in international relations, real estate and architecture.
Perry was not the only student to experience program progress. Part of Holzgrefes’ research involved finding cost-effective solutions to the growing climate change concerns in Palestine.
I would say that the number one progress I had was that it was most important to target the agricultural sector and water source in terms of climate change, he says.
Students worked with these global companies for approximately 12,000 hours of combined learning, gaining expertise in areas ranging from the ability to discern career to intercultural knowledge.
This intercultural knowledge shaped the experience for many students, leaving them with skills they will value in the workforce.
It seems to me that my communication style is now much more appealing to a larger group of people, says Holzgrefe. You have to overcome language barriers, cultural barriers, adds Perry. And you learn about the obvious cultural differences, but also the subconscious cultural changes that affect people’s values and the way they communicate.
Next, both participants would recommend vGPE to any student seeking to expand their world knowledge.
Try to think about your past and all your previous international experiences; even if they are virtual, even if they are only in one class,
Perry would advise prospective participants.
And use it to build on your vGPE experiences. Holzgrefe offered additional encouragement. For all Notre Dame programs, just put yourself there, he says. You have no idea what will come up with it.
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