Although many students hoped otherwise, the study abroad program has been canceled once again due to COVID-19.
Ryan Donald, study abroad specialist, said the decision was based on the projected future of the pandemic.
“These variant virus strains really created a big impact on travel around the world. We saw an increase of travel restrictions, and so that was something we [had] to weigh because currently, many of these destinations, as a traveler from the U.S., you would not be able to go if you wanted to leave today,” Donald said.
Donald said the decision was made early to give students time to adjust their plans. He also said the office is willing to work with students weighing virtual options to get the credit they need.
“We didn’t want to make this decision in May and it [be] a scramble [for students] to try to figure out their lives, and especially students that need a course to either graduate or keep on track. This gives them time to examine other options,” Donald said.
Kathleen Vongsathorn, assistant professor of history, was planning to head a trip to London oriented toward STEM and pre health students in Summer 2020. She rescheduled the trip for Summer 2021, but the trip was canceled again.
“The effects of the cancellation were a lot more drastic last year because it was so unexpected. Everybody had already made all their payments and they had set aside classes ... this year, right from the get-go, we were very clear that there was definitely a possibility that it would be canceled,” Vongsathorn said.
Vongsathorn said she is absolutely planning to head the trip next year.
“Having planned it all out and having gotten so far along the process not once, but twice, I figure next summer surely,” Vongsathorn said.
Kevin Cannon, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice Studies, heads trips alternating between Ireland and Amsterdam. Cannon said he believes the cancellation was necessary.
“A lot of countries are still having quarantine once you arrive, so the idea that we’re going to go on a two-week trip, and then we arrive and have to quarantine for two weeks, there’s no point to the trip,” Cannon said.
Dorothy Volansky, a senior public health major from Fenton, Missouri, planned to go on Vongsathorn’s trip in 2020 and in 2021. She said she delayed her graduation by a semester in the hopes that she would get to go in 2021.
“I feel like one of my dreams was to always study abroad in college, and I just feel like I worked so much toward that goal that knowing that as a senior I’m going to be graduating in December, not being able to pursue that dream of mine as an undergraduate student, it just really is saddening and depressing,” Volansky said.
Volansky said those disappointed in the cancellation should stay hopeful and not give up on their dreams.
“If it’s not meant to be now, it doesn’t mean it’s not meant to be later on,” Volansky said. “Actually, I was given the opportunity possibly to ... do a volunteer experience in Sub-Saharan Africa hopefully, and I would get to use a public health degree in many ways over there doing research and doing data analysis ... in relation to malnutrition for children and pregnant women.”
Joe Perez, a junior criminal justice major from Charleston, Illinois, planned to go on Cannon’s trip last summer and this summer. Perez said he will graduate in the fall, so he will not have another chance to study abroad.
“It sucks. It was something I was really looking forward to. I understand why they did it; I was a bio major before, so I understand everything that’s going on and why we have to do what we do. But it was something I know that not only me, but a handful of other students were really looking forward to,” Perez said.
Kiley Hunt, a senior criminal justice major from Camp Point, Illinois, attended one of Cannon’s Ireland trips and planned to go to Amsterdam.
“I’m very disappointed. I was pretty hopeful with vaccines coming out and some restrictions loosening up that hopefully by that time we would be able to enjoy the trip,” Hunt said.
Donald said he is optimistic that more students will be encouraged to study abroad in the future.
“I think there is, at least in the short term, a pent-up demand [from] those that have wanted to go and couldn’t. So I think once it’s safe to do so, you’re going to see some of that pent-up demand,” Donald said. “I think also this pandemic has shown the need for people who can engage and understand things on a global level.”
To learn more about the study abroad program, visit its website.