ARRIVIDERCI, FLORENCE! ADIEU, SEVILLE! HELLO ZOOM! COVID-19 WIPES OUT STUDY ABROAD

Mt. Cook, New Zealand. Photo by Kyle Naftel from Fall 2019 study abroad at ISA – Victoria University of Wellington.

After months of applying, filling out paperwork, and rearranging class schedules, you’re finally getting ready to pack your belongings and hop on a flight to move abroad for an entire semester.

Then you get the official notification in your email.

Nope. You’re not going anywhere.

All Study abroad programs for Fall 2020 — and Spring 2021 — have been cancelled due to COVID-19. That could affect close to 500 Chapman students.

“I have been looking forward to studying abroad for as long as I can remember,” said Mia Zucchi, a junior graphic design major scheduled for a fall in Florence, Italy. “It is definitely disappointing.”

The Center for Global Education officials are committed to working with students to go abroad in a future term once study abroad again becomes feasible. However, not all students have the option to adjust their plans to a different semester.

“I had to plan far in advance to fit my semester abroad in my schedule and it is too late to make adjustments to my four year plan to allow me to study abroad and graduate on time,” said Zucchi.

Allie Chow, a junior global communication major, was also set to study abroad this fall in Seville, Spain. Yet she knew early she could be headed for a disappointing cancellation.

“I was still pretty devastated when it happened because I love Spain a lot and was looking forward to going back,” said Chow about the cancellation. That meant coming back to campus.

“I also had to scramble to find housing which Chapman wasn’t super helpful with,” said Chow.

The decision to cancel Fall 2020 semesters was made in May in accordance with The U.S. Department of State, which continues to have a Global Level 4 Health Advisory – Do Not Travel. The Spring 2021 cancellation came only a few months later in October.

“Hopefully after college I can still travel to Europe and have a somewhat similar experience, but I know it won’t be the same,” said Alexandra Ergas, a junior communications studies major who was supposed to study abroad this spring.

“But I know it won’t be the same.”

Photo by Ailina Caminos during the Social Nonfiction Methodologie travel course in the Philippines over Interterm 2020.

Before this year’s cancellations, students studying abroad in Spring 2020 were told to return home as COVID-19 spread across the globe, making it too unsafe to stay where they were.

“In the end I was okay with my trip being cancelled since COVID was bad both here and in Spain, and I didn’t want to risk my health,” said Chow.

The Center for Global Education had to cancel the programs as a result of the considerable uncertainty about the status and safety of travel and international response to the global pandemic. Students would have to face many challenges to international travel including mandatory quarantines, travel restrictions, and closed borders.

Currently the only travel program that will be running this spring is the Washington Semester Program at American University in Washington D.C., following American University’s campus protocols and D.C. Health Department regulations.

“I think it was smart for the office to cancel study abroad programs for this year; they don’t want to worry about having to send students home again,” said Caroline Seely, a junior public relations and advertising major who was sent home six weeks into her study abroad semester in Amsterdam.

“When we were sent home, I didn’t consider how long it would last and it wasn’t until this summer that I thought about programs being canceled for this school year,” Seely said.

For the past spring’s students abroad, the go-home notice was a major disruption of their lives.

Victoria Mas, a junior sociology major, recalled how sudden the cancellation of the program was while she was studying  abroad in Spain last spring.

“We were all stuck in a tiny apartment, not able to leave, and knowing I somehow managed to book a flight and pack up all of my things within a matter of a few days makes me feel proud of myself,” Mas said.

Victoria Mas ’22 in Spain last spring before the cancellation.

The university had been in close contact with the students studying abroad as COVID-19 spread throughout the world. Schools and programs abroad were starting to move online, and travel restrictions were going to be imposed: a blow to the whole study abroad experience.

Country-by-country over several weeks the students were notified to return home. Students returning from semesters abroad then completed their coursework remotely, still  earning credit for their semester abroad.

The Center for Global Education offered a session for these students titled “Study Abroad Unexpected Early Return,” to have a conversation around the challenges of having to return early.

“We wanted to provide a space for spring study abroad students to engage with one another, process the changes, and help them better articulate what they learned from the experience,” said Jodi Hicks, assistant director of overseas programs.

While no Chapman students had a known, confirmed case of COVID-19 while studying abroad, the future of Chapman students studying in another country for credit remains up in the air for the time being due to the pandemic.

Venice, Italy. Photo by Justin Stirewalt while studying abroad during Spring 2020 at Theatre Academy London before the cancellation.

The Center for Global Education recognizes travel courses and study abroad are an essential facet of the Chapman Experience for many students, and are hopeful they will be able to provide more opportunities in the near future.

Despite the uncertainties of the current state of study abroad, students can still recognize the value of the study abroad program and the overall experience of studying abroad.

“There’s a lot of fear going into studying abroad, living in a new county is horrifying!” said Mas. “Nevertheless, the best part of it all is knowing I can live with less fear because I traveled outside of my comfort zone.”

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