Georgetown University students who hope to study abroad spring 2021 face uncertainty about whether their study abroad plans will be complicated by coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
Although all student university-sponsored international travel has been suspended since March 4 because of health risks posed by COVID-19, the university is currently planning to proceed with most spring study abroad programs. A June 15 announcement from the university extended the travel moratorium through the fall 2020 semester, canceling all fall study abroad programs. In an email to undergraduate students Aug. 28, however, the Office of Global Education announced it had opened spring 2021 study abroad applications for juniors and sophomores.
Multiple students reported the OGE encouraged them to proceed with applications to international programs for spring 2021, including Sanjna Jain (SFS ’22) and Maddy Duval (COL ’22), who both plan on studying abroad next semester. (Full disclosure: Duval currently serves on The Hoya’s editorial board.)
Jain said she initially hoped to study in Morocco, but after consulting staff at the OGE, she decided to look into programs located in European countries with lower coronavirus transmission rates. She is now applying for a study abroad program in Denmark. Jain remains concerned, however, that the university will extend its moratorium on international travel even if the program itself continues as planned.
“From what the advisers told me, they think the programs themselves are going to run, but the question is whether Georgetown is actually going to let people go on the programs,” Jain said. “It seems like OGE won’t have much control over whether we go abroad.”
When approached for comment, OGE Director Craig Rinker deferred comment to a university spokesperson, who said it is too early to make a decision on spring study abroad programming until the health risks can be properly evaluated.
“We recognize the importance of communicating our approach to the spring semester as soon as possible. Many factors are still uncertain and evolving, and our number one priority is the safety of our community,” the university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We will continue to evaluate guidance from local and federal governmental agencies, health and epidemiological projections, and other factors relating to international travel throughout the fall semester.”
Duval had initially been accepted to an OGE-sponsored program at the University of Auckland for the spring, but it was canceled because of the pandemic, so she began to look for other programs. She also considered putting her study abroad experience on hold, especially since the spring 2021 programs could be canceled on short notice.
“They’ve been really open with me about the possibility of it being canceled, and they said if programs do start to cancel they’re going to try and get those students placed elsewhere,” Duval said. “I’m planning to apply to a different university in New Zealand, but I’m also keeping the possibility open to study abroad in senior fall or over the summer because I feel like the possibility other programs start to cancel is pretty high.”
Study abroad uncertainty has thrown Duval’s academic plans into flux, and she hopes the university is cognizant of the additional planning students who want to study abroad are facing.
“My vision of what my time at Georgetown would look like is completely up in the air,” Duval said. “I’m the type of person who likes to have a plan, so it’s been hard to accept that I can’t control it and just know that I have to wait and rely on external factors for the decision to be made.”
Jain said her OGE advisers have suggested the office would make a final decision about the spring semester by late October, but no official announcement has been made on when or what the university will decide.
The university will follow a similar procedure when evaluating whether to cancel study abroad for the spring as it did for this fall, according to a university spokesperson.
“We made the decision in mid-June in order to provide all students who had planned to participate in university-sponsored international travel or programs ample time to adjust their plans to continue their studies with Georgetown for the fall semester,” the spokesperson wrote. “We recognize how disruptive and significant this decision is, and the university is actively working with relevant departments to help affected students determine the best course of action to continue their academic progress in the fall.”
Other countries’ border restrictions may preclude students from the United States from international travel. Many countries, including France, Germany and Italy, have closed their borders to Americans engaged in non-essential travel due to health risks, in part because the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States is the highest in the world, according to The New York Times.
When compared with the United States, Duval said she is not concerned about contracting the virus in New Zealand, which has virtually eliminated coronavirus transmission, but does worry she could become infected while traveling overseas.
“I would be worried if the situation in the U.S. doesn’t improve, I would be worried about me bringing it to New Zealand,” Duval said.
Jain said she is also concerned about the risks of international flights but added European countries have handled the pandemic more successfully than the United States, and she would definitely choose to study abroad if given the option.
“I would probably feel more comfortable studying abroad than going back to Georgetown’s campus in the spring,” Jain said. “I would probably feel safer in a country that’s not the U.S.”