Earlier this month, Pacific University announced that study abroad programs for spring semester have been canceled. Up until this point, whether or not the program was still on was still largely undecided. Now students and faculty alike are adjusting to the change.
The decision was made in response to the predicted second wave of cases and new surges occurring in many destination countries, according to Stephen Prag, Director of International Programs. The university also has a policy not to send students out when under State Department and CDC travel advisory of a certain level. “All of our destination countries are in that category right now,” says Prag.
Many destination countries are also hesitant to let Americans visit at the moment, given the state of COVID-19 in the U.S.
The timing of the cancellation comes right at the point where most students—who have been preparing for the trip since last February—would have had to begin making their final plans for study abroad.
“This is the time when students are finishing off their applications for spring, they’re beginning their visa applications which entails a significant cost and so ultimately we just felt it was going to be much better for our students to end the unpredictability,” says Prag.
While this decision has certainly affected plans for many, it should not be detrimental to students whose programs include study abroad requirements, such as language majors and international studies majors. Students have been encouraged to talk with advisors on working to develop alternatives to these requirements.
“No student is going to have progress towards graduation delayed because, due to the current circumstances with COVID” says Prag.
Prep Course Proceeding as Planned
Another program impacted is the Global Skills course, which usually takes place in three parts: a prep course, readying students for study abroad, an online component to work with students while they are abroad, and a reentry course to debrief and adjust after returning. With no students abroad this semester or this coming spring, the online and reentry components are not happening. Yet, the prep course is going ahead as planned.
“There wasn’t a lot of adjustment I needed to make,” says Jann Purdy, who teaches the global skills course. While the online and reentry components of the program are intrinsically tied to the study abroad process, the prep course section is designed to be applicable to students whether they’re planning to immediately study abroad, want to diversify their communication skills, or are just trying to fill out an extra two credits for the second half of the semester.
“It’s largely anchored in intercultural communication and that’s applicable to any situation, whether it’s a new job, or a new relationship… they’re transferable skills” says Purdy. The half semester prep course begins this week.
Sad, but Inevitable
Students have reacted to the decision to cancel study abroad this spring much more calmly than last spring, when students had study abroad canceled mid-semester, which Prag owes to the current decision being more predictable.
“At that point we had students in harm’s way. Now, we’re essentially preventing them from going into a situation that would be very unpredictable” says Prag.
Seth Thompson, a third-year history major at Pacific, has largely accepted the cancellation as an inevitable outcome of the pandemic. Thompson had been planning to study abroad in York this spring, an aspiration he has since freshman year of high school thanks to strong encouragement from friends and family who have done programs in the past.
“I honestly was more surprised that they were saying to stay optimistic for so long, because I was kind of expecting it to get canceled,” says Thompson. The school’s communications with students planning to study abroad prior to the cancellation had been largely encouraging that the semester would still be taking place.
Thompson expects that he will not be able to study abroad at all now. It appears that study abroad will not be possible using the extra semester that Pacific is extending to students in the wake of COVID, and Thompson isn’t prepared to try to study abroad during his senior year.
“I’m not too optimistic about being able to do it before I’m graduated,” says Thompson.
Study abroad is still expected to take place in Fall of 2021. — Dawson Oliver
Photo: One of the study abroad posters hanging around campus (Dawson Oliver)