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The uncertain future of study abroad

Study abroad may largely depend on COVID-19 cases in local countries. Photo via Scout archives.

As COVID-19 spread across the world in March 2020, students studying abroad were forced to leave countries they planned to spend the semester in and return home unexpectedly.

What hopeful students, as well as Kathleen Stinson, administrative coordinator of study abroad programs at Bradley, didn’t know at the time was that the opportunity to spend a semester learning in a foreign country would be coming to an indefinite end.

Since that mid-semester change, there hasn’t been much stability in future plans. The study abroad office canceled the May interim of 2020 and the May-term and January interim of 2021. Stinson said this was a decision made by the Bradley administration and the study abroad office, citing a lack of safety and an abundance of restrictions in the locations in which the trips were planned.

Students who want to go on semester-long trips are responsible for much more of the planning of their trips during any year, as opposed to May-term and J-term classes that are planned by the study abroad office. As a result, students have been much more hopeful, yet have no clear vision about the future of these programs.

For this reason, many students who had planned to go abroad this semester inevitably ended up not being able to.

“Programs were set to run … but actually, what happened to the students this spring is the university administration pulled the plug on study abroad,” Stinson said. “It was just, overall, the pandemic and the liability that [Bradley] might be responsible for. That’s the main concern that I’m aware of.”

As of right now, small groups of students are planning to go abroad for the fall semester 2021 to countries such as Denmark, Ireland and England. While Stinson and the students are remaining hopeful, they are planning for both the best and the worst.

“We haven’t had any cancelations or heard anything yet … we know the student demand is there and students are just dying to go,” Stinson said.

Students are continuing with orientations, registrations and other planning for their programs abroad as they would for a normal semester, but Stinson is also encouraging them to make a backup plan in case they are unable to travel in the fall.

Stinson always encourages students to make alternative plans so they are prepared for all unexpected events that may prevent them from going on their planned trips, but she has emphasized it during the pandemic.
Colton Wilder, a junior music and middle school education double major, was set to leave for Japan just a few weeks after word of the pandemic got to the U.S to further his studies and assist in teaching students English in a local school.

“Vividly, I can remember preparing for the Bradley Symphony Orchestra dress rehearsal and my phone blowing up with emails [on March 1st] …hearing that my program might be cancelled,” Wilder said.

Within six days, his program was completely canceled and he enrolled in a similar program in Copenhagen for the fall semester of 2020. This program was soon cancelled as well.

“I was not only frustrated,” Wilder said. “I was crushed.”

Wilder is now set to go to Copenhagen in the fall of 2021, and if this program is cancelled, he will be out of time in his college career to study abroad.

With lots of help from Stinson and the program in Copenhagen, Wilder is confident his experience abroad will happen. He has picked up extra hours at work, applied for various scholarships and received different types of funding for the experience and hopes all this work and stress will pay off when he finally gets to go.

“Hopefully, all of this hard work will pay off when [I] study abroad in the Fall… third time’s the charm,” Wilder said.

Stinson said at least 20 students are interested in going abroad in the spring of 2022.

“Hopefully, by then the worst will be over,” Stinson said. “I know there’s a lot of students that are brokenhearted about everything. We know it’s going to get back to normal at some point. We’re crossing our fingers it’s sometime soon.”

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