By Celina Daigle
Less than one month into the start of the fall 2020 semester, the University of Connecticut’s Education Abroad office has cancelled all of their in-person spring 2021 programs. Matthew K. Yates, the Director of Education Abroad, broke the news in an email sent to all students involved in an overseas study program on September 24, 2020.
According to the email, in place of the usual programs UConn will offer virtual Education Abroad programs instead for the upcoming term. Yates even recommends replacing the study abroad experience as a whole with a UConn virtual internship which can be added to each individual’s spring 2021 courses, just as students did for the fall 2020 semester.
“At this time, most of the countries around the world are on travel advisories level three or level four. Level three says reconsider travel, level four says do not travel,” said Yuhang Rong, the Associate Vice President for Global Affairs. “Many of the countries where our study abroad
programs are, are level three and four countries.“
Many students were shocked to have heard the announcement that the Education Abroad programs were canceled this early – almost four months before the start of this year’s spring semester.
“[The] planning for those programs are in advance, it [is] not something we can wait for another two months to make decisions, contracting needs to be executed, funds need to be paid,” Rong said. “While, it would not be fair to ask students to commit their personal funds…so early, and then when we pay them out, it’s very difficult for us to get the funds back from vendors abroad.”
Clarice Pennock, a sixth-semester human development major, received an email from her Education Abroad advisor who had mentioned to her well before receiving the cancellation message that the spring semester was very much “up in the air.” The email encouraged her to be willing to work alongside them and her academic advisor in choosing a new option to replace the physicality of living and learning outside of the country.
“I definitely saw it coming to an extent,'”said Pennock. “[It] had definitely been hinted at that these programs were not set in stone and likely to change or be canceled.”
Unfortunately for Pennock, she is currently in the middle of a co-op, meaning she is working full time, but is still a student. She likely believes that she will take a light course load in the spring and finish up her degree in the coming semesters. Pennock said the virtual experince is not what she would want out of an “abroad program.”
Based on a business model, the virtual internships will work similar to the way large businesses or corporations work worldwide. UConn has organized a virtual business economics program with their London branch, which typically occurs in person. Students will begin to have a few opportunities available to experience how British corporations operate. They’ll receive practical experience all from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
If the Education Abroad office does not hear from applicants who were expecting to travel abroad next spring on their choice to change to a virtual program or not, their application will be automatically withdrawn as of November 1, 2020 and the $25 application fee will be refunded to students at that time. Other than that, students can be reassured that they have no need to take any action regarding their application at the moment.