Virtual study abroad program reflects on cultural influence, architecture

Cities featured in program include Kyoto, Paris, New York City, Columbus



Steve Austin, clinical assistant professor for WSU’s School of Design and Construction, said the virtual study abroad program helps students gain an understanding of other cultures.

BRADLEY GAMBLE, Evergreen reporter

A WSU professor launched a free virtual study abroad program for students who missed out on study abroad trips due to COVID-19.

Steve Austin, clinical assistant professor for WSU’s School of Design and Construction, said he created the program to help students gain a better understanding of other cultures, as well as a sense of camaraderie after the COVID-19 quarantine.

“I hope that they get some of the influences about culture and design as if they had gone on that trip,” he said. “I hope they gain things to think about as they move forward with their careers.”

The program offered three sessions of virtual tours covering cities like Kyoto, Paris, New York City and Columbus, Indiana. The tours focused on different design aspects of architecture, interior design, construction and landscapes. 

Austin said he also included sections that cover cultural foods to help students feel like they are on a real tour of the city.

“We went around Paris and looked at the French food … when we went to Columbus, we had fair food at the Indiana State Fair,” he said. “I wanted to get people thinking ‘I’m sitting in my bedroom, but I’m really here in Paris.’”

The first tour explored the Katsura Imperial Villa in Japan, The second session focused on the Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles in France. The third session included both the Miller House and Garden in Indiana, as well as New York’s Central Park.

Jesus Gomez, senior landscape architecture major, said the program was a great opportunity to learn about other cultures and escape from current world issues.

“Being able to do it all virtually makes me feel like I’m there in a sense,” he said. “I got to see great designs and these amazing cultures through a social platform.”

Initially, Austin said he came up with this idea as a summer program for his architectural design students. Later in the planning process, he said he decided to make it available to all students, including those not enrolled at WSU.

The program ended on Tuesday, but Austin said he hopes to continue and expand the program through next year. He said it offers a more affordable option for students wanting to experience study abroad programs.

He said the virtual program also shows his commitment to fighting the climate crisis.

“We’ve got to stop emitting carbon, so we can’t keep taking trips across the world on airplanes,” he said. “Virtual tours are going to be much more important as we move into the future.”

He said he has not decided on any locations for next year yet, but he knows his choices will involve a focus on socially- and environmentally-just projects rather than historical projects.