ESDES School of Business in Lyon, France. Photo courtesy of Catholic University of Lyon.
ESDES School of Business in Lyon, France. Photo courtesy of Catholic University of Lyon.

Among the countless consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the loss of study abroad opportunities for college students. Visa restrictions, virtual classes, and overall unease regarding international travel have all but eliminated this uniquely collegiate experience for a second straight year.

However, Dustin Read, associate professor of Property Management, managed to bring a taste of international education to a group of Virginia Tech Real Estate majors.

Read, who for several years has taught a one-week, 20-hour real estate seminar at the ESDES School of Business in Lyon, France, was forced to move his course online this past fall. While not an ideal situation – Read missed out on a trip to Lyon, after all – the virtual environment enabled him to make a unique change to the course.  

“When my seminar was moved online, a colleague from France reached out to me and said that the situation would make for a unique opportunity to include Virginia Tech students in the course,” explained Read.

Ten Virginia Tech students pursuing undergraduate degrees in real estate were paired with 10 ESDES students pursuing graduate degrees in financial markets to complete a real estate case study. Each group was asked to identify a potential real estate investment in France, assess its financial feasibility, and report the results of the analysis via a team presentation.

“The Virginia Tech students were finance and real estate double-majors who could work with graduate-level students,” Read explained. “The French students were graduate-level finance majors. For them, it was their first experience with real estate coursework.”

The course, which was spread over one month, consisted of formal lectures to French students about real estate fundamentals. For the Virginia Tech students, their work was akin to that of an independent study.

“Being exposed to international markets was such a great learning experience for me as I hope to work abroad in the future,” said Virginia Tech senior Grace Boyles. “I went in expecting work with a student abroad to be difficult, but it could not have worked out better. I would highly recommend any student who is given the opportunity to work with someone from an international university to take advantage of it.”

The course allowed us to identify with American students who are passionate about the same subjects as we are,” explained Mounji Boulahdour, a graduate student at ESDES.

According to Read, when it came time to report the results of their projects, each of the student teams did a wonderful job presenting their ideas and demonstrating a strong understanding of real estate fundamentals. They also displayed an ability to collaborate under difficult circumstances.

“This was a good experience in a challenging environment,” added Read. “For the Virginia Tech students, they received one credit hour for a course that wasn’t part of their degree requirements. Therefore, the students participating were ones who genuinely wanted the opportunity to learn and have experience working with a foreign culture. It was a unique opportunity for our students to partake in and I’m glad they took advantage of it.”

Due to the positive response he has received from participants in the course, Read stated that he is looking into ways to expand the course once the pandemic ends.

“I want to be able to continue to involve Virginia Tech students,” he said.

No matter what the future of the course looks like, one thing is certain – Read was able to turn an adverse situation into a positive experience for all involved.

Kevin Boyle, Willis Blackwood Director of the Program in Real Estate notes that “this was a unique learning opportunity that few students get to experience and has an important experiential component. Even in normal times, graduates will communicate remotely with colleagues on real esate investments domestically and internationally.”

“I would encourage anyone – regardless of the industry they are interested in – to take advantage of an opportunity to work with a foreign counterpart, as it can be a stepping stone to building relationships outside of your comfort zone,” said Virginia Tech senior Ashley Gaines.