Canadian-East African Learning Internships amidst COVID-19: Impacts of Virtual Learning and Exchange on Collaborative Relationships, Trust, and Power


  • Katherine Butler University of Western Ontario
  • Aimée Josephine Utuza University of Western Ontario
  • Elysée Nouvet University of Western Ontario



North-South partnerships, global ethical engagement, virtual teams, North-South student mobility programs, remote student internships, self-reflexivity, trust, power, East Africa, in-person cultural immersion


The formation of trusting relationships is a stated aim of student mobility programs, but resources to support virtual relationship-building in the absence of in-person student travel to international locations have yet to be developed. Towards informing the development of such resources, especially for the context of North-South partnerships, qualitative research was conducted based on the experience of a 2020 summer cohort of remote interns at a Canadian university and an East African partner supervisor. Thematic analysis of intern blogs and semi-structured interviews indicates several considerations and recommendations that, if considered prior to virtual international student learning opportunities, could optimize learning and North-South relationship-building potential of these opportunities. These considerations and recommendations include: recognizing that the formality of online communication can limit feelings of trust and closeness between participants; infrequent communication can impact relationship-building; self-reflexive practice must be intentional to optimize learning in virtual internships; open communication makes a difference to learning and relationships; and, internships would benefit from the development of internship-specific strategic plans. More robust research on remote international internships is warranted to build up understanding of how and why virtual student international internships in general, and virtual internships involving Global North-South partnership in particular, differ from in-person internships.