Editor's Note: Susanna Getis intended to study abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland during the fall 2020 semester.
The Office of International Education canceled all fall 2020 study abroad programming, according to a May 15 email written to students who planned on studying abroad next semester. Fall study abroad was canceled because of concerns regarding international travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The email, which was sent by the Dean of International Education Martha Merritt and the International Education team, wrote that UR cannot endorse any travel because of the persistence of the travel advisories from the Center for Disease Control and the U.S. State Department discouragement of any travel.
Many host institutions have expressed that they would be unable to provide the immersive experience that they had previously promised because of travel restrictions, such as the requirement for international travelers to be under a two-week quarantine upon arrival, according to the email.
“If you intended to travel and explore during the semester abroad, you would run the risk of significant travel disruptions or prohibitions by changing policies in what will continue to be an unpredictable climate,” according to the email.
The next steps for students who were planning to study abroad in fall 2020 were also outlined in the email, including a housing survey and instructions to prepare for an additional course registration cycle. According to the OIE's email, this registration cycle will begin on June 22.
In a May 15 email to The Collegian, Associate Dean and Director of Education Abroad Ellen Sayles wrote that over the past few weeks many international partners had suspended all exchange programs, delayed the start of their programs and/or moved their courses online.
In addition to the increasing number of students choosing to defer or withdraw, the decisions of international partners caused the OIE to contemplate cancellation, Sayles wrote.
“The problems are compounded in that our partner organizations and the governments of their country have to make a lot of changes to resume, and then maintain, study abroad under pandemic conditions,” Sayles wrote.
During the process of deciding to cancel fall study abroad, Sayles wrote that the provost and other members of the UR community assisted the OIE in recognizing specific markers of improving the status of international travel.
These included lowering travel and global health alerts, the reopening of consulates and embassies and the return to normal air travel, Sayles wrote.
Sayles wrote that these markers will continue to be monitored to determine the status of spring 2021 study abroad programming.
Junior Andrew Cook said that he was planning on studying in Kisumu, Kenya, during the fall 2020 semester. Cook was supposed to study the implementation of public health measures through excursions to places such as Uganda and Rwanda, Cook said.
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“I’ve been following the situation in Africa, and especially there, I could kind of tell that they were going to be rocked by the virus," Cook said. "I didn’t have high hopes that I was going to be able to go to Africa in the fall.”
The cancellation of fall 2020 study abroad programming was not a surprise to junior Madison Richard, who chose to withdraw from her program at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen on May 8.
“It was up in the air whether we were going to go abroad or not," Richard said. "Knowing at least that I’m going back to Richmond just kind of gave me a sense of security."
Originally, Richard was planning to attend DIS Copenhagen with one of her friends from her hometown. However, after learning that her friend’s college had canceled all study abroad programming and after considering all the possible travel restrictions, Richard began to lose interest.
“I got less and less excited, so I was kind of content when I withdrew,” Richard said.
Although Richard is sad about her plans being canceled, she said she was now able to spend more time with her friends in Richmond, especially those that were graduating in the spring.
Junior Joy Lim is still planning on studying abroad in South Korea during the spring 2021 semester.
“I just hope that a good majority of students will be able to defer and be able to go second semester,” Lim said.
Lim is worried about the possibility of losing her spot in the South Korea program during the spring 2021 semester, she said.
Lim knows of some students who wanted to attend the same program during the fall 2020 semester and she is worried that there will not be enough spots available because the spring 2021 study abroad application process has not started yet, she said. Lim said she moved from South Korea to the U.S. 12 years ago, and she is determined to return there.
The OIE has not contacted students planning to study abroad in spring 2021 about possible implications for the program, Lim said.
“It’s just strange and upsetting," Lim said. "I mean this is a global pandemic. We are living through history right now."
In Sayles' May 15 email to The Collegian, she wrote that the application processes for spring and summer study abroad programs have been simplified in case students wished to defer their programs.
“By continuing to partner with students, faculty, our international colleagues and others in our community, we look forward to creative ways of keeping our campus internationally aware and engaged with other cultures even given our present restrictions,” Sayles wrote.
Contact international editor Susanna Getis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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