by KAITLIN SMYTH
UMW’s Center of International Education study abroad programs are adapting to the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
UMW CIE has created virtual events, such as Travel Tuesdays, to connect UMW students with partner programs and international universities.
“Since the Center for International Education could not host our annual in person Education Abroad Fair this year during Family Weekend due to COVID 19, we came up with a virtual version of the fair: Travel Tuesdays,” said Dr. Jose Sainz, Director of the Center for International Education. “Tuesdays in October featured presentations from partner programs and international universities. Via Zoom, students interested in any of our programs around the world had the opportunities to ask questions and learn more about international opportunities available during these challenging times. Students learned about programs where they can study, intern, volunteer and pursue undergraduate research.”
UMW’s Center of International Education said that the majority of study abroad programs were cancelled or shortened for the spring and summer semester 2020 through fall semester 2020.
“COVID-19 has without a doubt turned the world on international educational travel upside down, ” said Sainz. “In summer and fall 2020 we witnessed how the majority of our international partners cancelled their programs. However, we are in close communication with these partners to explore what spring and summer travel may look like.”
Study abroad programs through CIE have adapted to a new normal compared to previous years.
“As we begin having conversations with faculty leaders, host institutions and foreign universities about summer programs, it is very clear that any type of travel abroad will be only possible by closely observing mandates put into place by the airlines and the local health authorities and governments in each of the locations where we hope to operate,” said Sainz. “If travel were to happen now, students would have to follow similar hygiene, distancing, and masking guidelines to what they are currently observing here on campus.”
Senior linguistics major Michelle Lowe’s study abroad trip in South Korea was cut short due to the pandemic during her junior spring semester.
“I was in South Korea for six days total. The night of the fourth day,I was informed that our program was cancelled. They gave us an option to directly enroll in Korea University, but they highly recommended us to return to the US. It was extremely stressful because I had completely unpacked and was ready to tour South Korea. I would have been in South Korea until June if the pandemic didn’t happen,” she said.
Lowe expressed her relief on CIE’s quick action on her study abroad program.
“CIE gave us an opportunity to transfer to an Australia program. If we did not want to participate in the Australia program, they gave us a full refund. They also gave us an option to roll over all of our applications to the fall semester, “ she said.
Lowe also expressed her sadness in her program being cancelled, but there was a silver lining during her short time abroad.
“It was very heartbreaking. I have been preparing for this since my freshman year. However, I made amazing friends along the way,” said Lowe.
Danielle DeSimone, alumnus from the class of 2014 with a double major in English creative writing and Italian, sends her sympathy to students whose study abroad programs were affected by the pandemic this school year.
“Studying abroad is such a unique experience for so many students. It is a once in a lifetime experience. To lose that experience because there are very limited chances to experience another country or another culture so suddenly and unexpectedly is so hard,” she said.
DeSimone also reflected on her study abroad experience and how it allowed her to fulfill a double major in both creative writing and Italian.
“My study abroad experience guaranteed that I was able to double major. If I hadn’t been able to do those programs, I wouldn’t have had enough classes provided by UMW to successfully fill out as an Italian special major. It is such a unique and incredible experience, I can’t imagine not to experience it fully. If someone who couldn’t do a whole semester in study abroad, it would throw a huge wrench in their plan. Every college that I have seen, including UMW, are deeply upset because they know how much of a profound impact on study abroad can have on a student,” said DeSimone.
UMW CIE remains hopeful for the upcoming study abroad trips. “We do not have a crystal ball, but our goal is to be ready for when students and faculty can travel again, whenever that may be possible,” said Sainz.