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Tagged for the Americas, Australia, countries in between, students’ study abroad travel bags must stay home another semester

142 students impacted by fall study abroad cancellation, express disappointment, understanding

As the impact of COVID-19 continues into the summer, the University has canceled its sponsored Fall 2020 study abroad programs for undergraduate students. 

The difficult decision impacts 142 University students who intended to spend next semester scattered across the globe, according to OIP Director Kendall Brostuen.

The Office of International Programs deliberated in conjunction with Brown’s International Travel Risk and Assessment Committee and senior administrators to ultimately cancel the programs. They did so in consideration of academic planning, the pandemic’s unpredictability and “other unanticipated effects from the pandemic,” Brostuen and OIP Deputy Director Lauren Alexander wrote in an email to The Herald. Affected undergraduates now need to alter their academic and housing plans for the coming year.

The University arrived at the decision given “the collective consequences of COVID-19 across the world,” they added. University policy restricts undergraduate students from traveling internationally to places that could jeopardize their health and safety and specifically to those destinations categorized as United States Department of State Travel Advisory Level 4 or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Warning Level 3 two conditions that still apply globally.

The OIP notified students who had intended to study abroad next semester through the Brown Consortium for Advanced Studies Abroad or other approved partner and petition programs in a March 12 email. A Today@Brown message to undergraduates and a public announcement on the University Coronavirus update webpage followed Wednesday. 

Sara Syed ’22 planned on attending one of the approved programs at the University of Sydney in Australia starting in July. She first found out her program was canceled a few weeks ago from the program’s host institution, Arcadia University. “I was obviously very disappointed, but I very much expected it,” she said. “I think it’s for the best.”

Katie Klein ’22 was also disappointed when she heard about the University’s cancellation of study abroad programming. As a double-concentrator in history and economics, Klein was originally unsure about whether she would ever have the opportunity to study abroad while fulfilling all of her course requirements — until she came across the DIS program in Copenhagen, Denmark, which would allow her to transfer adequate credits.

“It kind of changes my perspective on how I go about my last four semesters at Brown,” Klein said. For example, taking a semester off is “definitely something that I would consider now.”

Some students who had foreseen the cancellation of their programs were upset about the situation but appreciated receiving an official notice.

Tripp Harwell ’22, who intended to spend next fall in Granada, Spain, had considered the likelihood of having to stay on campus for another semester before the University announced the cancellation. “It was kind of expected … however it’s nice to have confirmation that the plans had been for sure canceled.”

Terminated travel, academic aspirations

Harwell loaded up on classes and adjusted his schedule during his sophomore year to ensure that he could complete all his required coursework and go abroad. He said this was “disappointing, but it’s not the end of the world,” and he anticipates having an easier schedule in coming years as a result. 

Uwa Ede-Osifo ’22 planned on exchanging her dorm room for a home in Havana, Cuba next semester as part of a University CASA program. Sharing sentiments with some of her peers, though, Ede-Osifo said she “wasn’t really surprised at all to be honest.”

“This kind of confirms what I already knew was going to happen, and it gave me the opportunity to start planning.”

Ede-Osifo noted the convenience of now being able to take several remaining, introductory-level courses for her concentration a year early: “I can do that now this fall and not have them take up space in my senior (year course) cart.”

But these students had looked forward to immersing themselves in the surrounding culture and taking courses unique to their study abroad programs. Klein was “super excited to take the European history classes actually in Europe. That’s kind of an opportunity that I’m missing out on,” she said. 

“There were certain classes I wanted to take in Australia that I couldn’t take at Brown,” Syed said, including pre-professional courses, like project management, and a class that involved attending sporting events in the country.

Ede-Osifo will also miss the chance to experience the community, culture and political system that she had devoted time to researching, she said. 

The announcement leaves students with about a month before the postponed pre-registration period for the fall, which begins June 15 and lasts through June 20. 

“I was happy that the school told us beforehand because I fully expected Brown to email us like a week or two before the trip was supposed to happen,” Ede-Osifo said. Although “very surprised that they made this decision so early,” she was happy that the University took the initiative to keep students informed.

The decision was made now to provide students who had intended to go abroad with “ample time to adjust their plans to continue studies at Brown for the fall semester,” according to the email sent Tuesday. Brostuen and Alexander encourage students to discuss these changes with their concentration advisors or academic deans

I had honestly not even looked at the classes that were available on (Course at Brown) for this semester until this week because I spent so much time getting courses approved for abroad,” Syed said.

The early announcement “ensures that students have time to complete their fall 2020 course registration and possibly (prevents) any losses associated with nonrefundable expenses,” Brostuen and Alexander added.

Facilitating refunds, financial aid

Undergraduates no longer going abroad who choose to continue their studies at the University next semester and who have applied for financial aid will be informed of their packages in June.

In the meantime, University students should reach out to their OIP study abroad advisors and, if applicable, program advisors or their programs’ home institution’s study abroad offices with further questions specific to their circumstances. Those participating in approved and petition programs also need to personally reach out to their host universities and program providers to withdraw or defer applications and request refunds or transfer of prior payments, according to the email sent to students.

“Providers have been very understanding of the need to be flexible and have revised their standard deposit refund policies accordingly,” Brostuen and Alexander wrote, adding that students should consult with the OIP if they come across difficulties in this process. 

Syed also commended the study abroad office for their efforts overall, saying they “were super responsive … so I think that they honestly were trying their best.”

Handling housing, residential changes

With students unable to go abroad in the fall, the University will also have to accommodate on-campus students with housing next semester. The Office of Residential Life will be in touch with students over the summer to discuss fall “housing options and availability,” the OIP’s email stated.

Klein had secured off-campus housing, which “kind of makes my life a little easier,” she said. But she acknowledged that not everyone is in this position. 

“I do have a ton of friends that are now pretty stressed about housing,” Klein said.

Others “in my (housing) group still thought there was a possibility of going abroad because the coronavirus” was not as significant of a concern in their destinations, Harwell said. Since the announcement, he and his friends have adjusted their plans for housing next year.

Ede-Osifo found a perk to her new housing situation. “I was kind of worried about the uncertainty of (being pulled into a spring housing group) because I just don’t really know much about the ... process,” she said. “Now I’m kind of happy that … I could actually live with my friends if the fall does happen on campus.” 

Syed also said she “wasn’t as stressed” because she was able to arrange a housing plan after her program got canceled early. “They’re now letting me go through the housing lottery, and they were honestly very accomodating,” she said.

Predicting spring study abroad program prospects 

Despite the suspension of study abroad during the fall, the OIP “(remains) optimistic about the ability to offer study abroad programs next spring and (encourages) students to continue exploring study abroad options during that semester,” according to the email sent to students. As such, undergraduates can elect to defer their applications to the spring or a later semester and will not need to resubmit new applications to do so. 

Students were told that they would have to decide whether they wanted to keep their application for the spring semester by October 1, according to Ede-Osifo.

Although this may lead to more study abroad applicants in the spring — a semester which already typically sees more applicants than the fall — Brostuen and Alexander wrote that they “are confident that we can accommodate continued growth, in part because of our many program offerings and our strong partnerships with international partner universities and program providers.” Given the atypical circumstances, “it is too early to predict the size or makeup of our Spring 2021 study abroad cohort,” they added.

But not everyone’s intended programs or schedules may be able to accommodate the shift to the spring semester. 

Although most of the University’s study abroad programs are offered during both semesters, “there are a handful of programs that are only offered as full-year programs or spring only,” Brostuen and Alexander wrote. 

Harwell is now considering programs for summer 2021 because he still needs to take several classes on campus in the spring. But he is also still uncertain whether “study abroad will be a manageable possibility in the future.” 

Athletic commitments pose another barrier to deferring applications to the spring. As a member of the water polo team, a spring sport, Klein “really can’t go abroad at all” now unless she were to take a break from school in the fall and study abroad in the summer, although she fears that this would become a “logistical nightmare.” 

Likewise, Syed remains unsure because she has squash nationals during the spring. “That’s something I don’t want to miss, so I think for me personally, I would probably not defer,” she said. 

Depending on what transpires in the coming months, Ede-Osifo is also questioning whether she will study abroad at a later time. Previously, she had not thought that one semester away would detract from her college experiences, but given the circumstances and the looming possibility of a virtual fall semester, “it kind of feels weird to go from being just barely a sophomore to coming back on campus as possibly a senior and having only two semesters left,” she said. 

The University will continue to keep an eye on the situation at home and abroad and adjust plans for spring programs if necessary. “ITRAC will continue to monitor CDC and DOS advisories, consult as needed with other education abroad and travel safety colleagues and professional organizations, and make an informed recommendation this fall,” Brostuen and Alexander wrote. 

“We will convey any decisions with as much advance notice as possible,” the IOP wrote. 


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