EIA is an in-person study abroad program founded in 2013 to teach students from different academic disciplines and countries how to create and launch startups.

Since the beginning, we’ve had tremendous involvement from universities around the world. Our biggest supporter and partner has been the University of California Berkeley, which is one of the world’s top universities and also is located in the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley, the center of global innovation. 

During the program, UC Berkeley students get course credit and meet people from other countries. The UC Berkeley College of Engineering and Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship offer EIA to students as a real-world project with tangible results. Over the years, UC Berkeley has sent many students to EIA Portugal, including 60 students in 2019. EIA has helped UC Berkeley students embark on their dreams, starting with a few weeks in Portugal. The EIA alumni group has grown over the years, along with success stories that continued after graduation.

However, the unprecedented situation that emerged with the COVID-19 pandemic put global travel and study in peril. Together, UC Berkeley and EIA are working together to give students an online, immersive study abroad that teaches students how to create and launch their own startups while working with international, multidisciplinary teams, and receiving world-class mentorship. To attest to this fact, we decided to interview our colleague, Alex, from UC Berkeley.

Our interview with Alex Tan, UC Berkeley Study Abroad

Could you tell me a little about yourself and your role at UC Berkeley? 

I’m the Program Coordinator for UC Berkeley Summer Abroad, which includes our faculty-led programs during the summer. We have a broad range of programs in many countries, and EIA is one of the programs included in my portfolio. I got into this work because I was a UC Berkeley student and started with a summer program and ended up extending my study abroad for a whole year. It sounds clichè, but it was one of the most impactful experiences I had in my time at Berkeley. I now work in the study abroad office and feel privileged to get to create meaningful and transformative experiences for students. 

EIA and UC Berkeley have partnered since 2013 on in-person programs. But can you describe the recent events that led UC Berkeley to partner with EIA’s new global program? 

The global risk around travel and the continued lack of mobility due to COVID-19 has translated into uncertainty for our study abroad programs. We had to cancel our in-person programs for summer 2020 and then started to forecast what would happen in summer 2021. 

We know that late cancellations impact students negatively because it affects students’ graduation requirements, credits, and even things like canceling a lease for an apartment to go on a study abroad program. When looking at 2021, we decided to pivot to give students an experience no matter where they were. So, we shifted all of our in-person programs online in a virtual format for 2021. We decided to take this as an opportunity to figure out what it would look like to create a virtual experience that would be unique and fulfilling for students and different from a typical online class.

Recently, UC Berkeley was listed as the 1st ranked public university in the United States and the world’s 12th ranked global institution. How does EIA Global add to UC Berkeley’s already impressive education? 

EIA and UC Berkeley have a great partnership. EIA accents the theoretical education students receive at Berkeley with an international and practical experience. In that way, the program is an amazing compliment to the UC Berkeley education. It provides students with the tools to thrive in a business environment but also offers hands-on training and experiential learning for building a company from the ground up. 

It’s invaluable for Berkeley students to get this kind of opportunity while they are still students. When they graduate, they can hit the ground running already having the experience of building a company. And they also learn how to collaborate on an international team. That’s excellent work experience whether they go the entrepreneurship route or work in a company. As the working environment is so global these days, EIA gives students a leg up when they start working. 

An online study abroad program is a step in a new direction. What do you think students will get out of EIA Global compared to a traditional study abroad? 

The point of EIA Global is to have increased opportunities for an engaged international experience where you access an educational opportunity that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to get without traveling. 

Students are getting to participate in an international competition and get to know business leaders and mentors from all over the world that they wouldn’t typically get access to when taking a course on campus. They are being provided with mentorship and also engaging in a cultural exchange in a way that’s meaningful. It’s not just watching a lecture but getting to interact with people from all over the world. That kind of engagement is different from a typical online course. That’s where we see the value: a student who can’t travel can still get an incredible life-changing experience where they will be building skills and learning both through forming relationships and receiving content about global issues, business, and startups.

Regarding the future of work and hands-on experience, do you think a program like EIA Global has practical importance for today’s working environment?

Absolutely. 100% percent. Already before the pandemic, we saw a lot of companies transitioning to more remote environments. Even companies that weren’t transitioning to remote environments still had global teams. It’s not uncommon for teams to be phoning in from Singapore, Mexico City, San Francisco, and many other places. With the COVID-19 pandemic, things are trending more towards online work and remote work. 

This program really does provide practical training. In some ways, even more than during an in-person experience. Because when you’re in a remote setting in different timezones, you face even more challenges. 

This experience is also going to be hands-on training for bridging gaps in communication. For example, how to come up with creative solutions in a remote format when working on a multicultural team in different parts of the globe. The EIA program being virtual and remote will provide a unique and hands-on experience that will be valuable for students when they enter the working world.

Is there anything you and your colleagues are interested in learning from EIA Global?

Yes, we are curious to see who signs up and the impact on the ability of UC Berkeley students to have abroad experiences. We’re hoping that creating virtual programs will provide opportunities for students who hadn’t even thought of traveling abroad or didn’t have the chance to do so. We’re also really excited about some of the possibilities with virtual programs: the tools that can be utilized virtually and what they can do for an international educational experience. 

In terms of student involvement in the online program at Berkeley, what do students get from this practically (credits, course requirements fulfilled)?

Through the Berkeley program, they’ll be earning UC Berkeley credits and units. This program also counts towards UC Berkeley students’ entrepreneurship certificate with the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. It usually takes multiple semesters to complete this certificate, but students can earn that certificate in just one summer by undertaking the EIA program.

In addition, any student can enroll, whether it’s a Berkeley student or a student in the University of California system, or a student from a non-affiliated university. Registering through the UC Berkeley program also gives you access to the first week of courses before the EIA online program. During this week, the SCET faculty teach the Berkeley method for entrepreneurship, and students get access to excellent training from Berkeley’s faculty. Students will earn Berkeley credit, receive financial aid, and have the possibility to apply for scholarships like the Gilman Scholarship to attend the EIA online program.

How has the EIA program helped students at UC Berkeley?

Students that have used EIA as a seed for their ideas, and others have continued to develop their ideas into fully-fledged startups and companies. Over the past few years, we’ve had study abroad panels, and we include students from the EIA program. Every year students express how impactful the EIA program has been for them. Many have continued with their startup idea. Others express that EIA helped them seed a new idea when they returned to Berkeley. Everyone that I’ve talked to has been able to use the EIA program as a jumping-off point. 

The program is beneficial for all students. Even if a student goes to the program and realizes that entrepreneurship isn’t for them, we also consider that to be a positive outcome. That means a student has taken another step towards understanding what they want their career path to be. That said, even for students in that category, we’ve heard feedback that this program has been incredibly helpful and impactful for their career and skill-building. As a result, we have a high rating and satisfaction for this program across the board. Whether students continued in the field of entrepreneurship, or they decided to pivot in a different direction. Both groups have expressed that the program had a positive and meaningful impact on them.


Learn more about the EIA Global online program from here!