Not even a global pandemic could stop junior Victoria Hadrick from studying abroad this past summer. Without leaving the United States, Hadrick mentored a group of six Italian high school students through John Cabot University’s Italy Starts program. Hadrick applied what she has learned in her Arts Administration major at Butler to guide her mentees in creating their own viable business model.

The Italy Starts program started in 2018 with 45 Italian students from six high schools in Rome. Three years later, Italy Starts 2021 grew to include 55 mentors from universities in the United States, Armenia, Nigeria, and Lebanon, along with Italian high school students from 16 high schools. The five-week remote program gave teams the opportunity to develop their entrepreneurship skills through resolving a perceived challenge in the environment. Mentors like Hadrick assumed leadership positions to help their mentees transform their ideas into a company. 

Hadrick’s group addressed the issue of water quality in Italy. The students described how the bodies of water in Italy became clearer when people were forced into quarantine, but how the water is becoming polluted again now that people are not confined to their homes. The students’ business model proposed ideas of how to control water quality and how to form more sustainable habits to protect the environment.

Hadrick met with her group weekly through Zoom, presenting a slide show to help them further develop their ideas. In leading the team, Hadrick was able to draw from the firsthand experience she’d gained in developing a business from the ground up through classes at Butler.

“In one of my classes before this, a Strategic Communication class, we had to start a campaign,” Hadrick says. “We had to pick a company, start the campaign, and build up documents, names, and ads for it. I just thought it was crazy that I had literally just learned how to make a campaign, and now I’m helping these students do the same thing.”

At the end of the program, mentees presented their completed model to the other mentors, mentees, and a jury of the program’s leaders. Awards were given to celebrate the standout business models. Hadrick says she felt like a proud parent when she watched her group present.

Following this remote international experience, Hadrick has applied to study abroad in person for the spring 2022 semester. She hopes that if accepted, she can visit some of her mentees in Rome while traveling. Hadrick says the Italy Starts program provided a taste of studying abroad before ever leaving the country.

“One of the reasons I wanted to do this so much is that I wanted to get that extra bit of cultural awareness before going,” Hadrick says. “I’m most likely going to be studying in London … fingers crossed that I get accepted.”

Virtual study abroad programs like Italy Starts were available before COVID-19, but not something Butler frequently promoted. Calie Dickey, Associate Director for Study Abroad, says that while virtual programs are not the same as true study abroad experiences, they are a great option for students who might not be able to fit a semester or summer abroad into their schedules, or if traveling would be too costly. Butler continues to offer international internship opportunities and virtual courses taught by professors from around the world.  

Dickey, who studied abroad herself when she was a student, is a huge proponent of students having international learning experiences. She says her office (Jordan Hall, Room 133) is open to let students know of the study abroad opportunities Butler has to offer. 

“Students of all majors and backgrounds can have an international experience,” Dickey says.  “That’s what my office—the Center for Global Education—is here to do, helping everybody find out what’s possible for them. Please come talk to us about all these great opportunities. The sooner we get to know our students, the easier it is for us to guide them to things that are beneficial for them.”

If students are interested in studying abroad, they can visit the Center for Global Education website and sign up for the Study Abroad Listserv to receive emails about study abroad opportunities. Students can also attend the Study Abroad Fair, October 5 from 4:00–6:00 PM in the Reilly Room to talk with faculty and past participants about international learning opportunities.

Gabi Morando is a sophomore at Butler University with majors in Journalism and Strategic Communication.