Fall study abroad plans derailed by COVID-19 travel restrictions

Questions about winter term and spring term programs remain

With the CDC’s strict guidelines and escalating advisories from the U.S. Department of State, it has become virtually impossible for study abroad programs to operate.

Fran McDonough

As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the United States and around the world, many Washington and Lee students who planned to be abroad this Fall Term have instead found themselves stuck on campus or at home.

Study abroad programs at Washington and Lee and other universities across the country have almost entirely shut down in the face of ongoing travel restrictions and health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. With the CDC’s strict guidelines and escalating advisories from the U.S. Department of State, it has become virtually impossible for these programs to operate in a reasonable, responsible way.

In nearby Blacksburg, Virginia Tech has made the preemptive decision to cancel all study abroad for the upcoming Winter 2020-2021 session, in addition to the already terminated Fall trips.

“This decision is being made now in hopes of minimizing the financial and academic impacts on students,” said Theresa Johansson, Director of Virginia Tech’s Global Education Office, in a news release on September 1st.

This reality has undoubtedly clashed with the academic plans of Washington and Lee students, many of whom needed their term abroad for degree requirements or language experience. 

Arguably, the group most affected by these changes has been the Class of 2022, as many third year students had set aside Fall 2020 or Winter 2021 for their study abroad experiences. For them, the cancellations have been frustrating but not unexpected.

“I was disappointed but not really surprised,” Bradley French, ‘22, said in regards to the mid-summer cancellation of her Fall trip to Rome.

Intending to study Classics while there, French quickly had to rely on friends and faculty for an unplanned transition to campus. A friend was able to offer her a spot in an apartment and her department head guided her through a late registration process, she said.

Anticipating a last minute scramble like this, Ana Estrada, ‘22, made an early decision to back out of her abroad program in Jordan before it was shut down.

“I was really disappointed about having to give up the program,” Estrada said about her Middlebury-sponsored trip in which she planned on studying Arabic, “but I wanted to avoid losing a housing spot… or making a last minute decision.”

One of the biggest questions that still remains for students and faculty alike is how Washington and Lee plans on moving forward into Winter term and even Spring term abroad, especially with the now-virtual Study Abroad Fair being held next week on September 10th.

Both French and Estrada admitted their desire to study abroad in the future, if at all possible. French even indicated that a summer program, an “archaeological dig in Greece,” may be the most feasible option at this point.

But still, each expressed skcepticism about the likelihood of this happening, cognizant of ever-changing pandemic circumstances.

When asked if she would go abroad soon: “I’m hoping to,” said Estrada, “but I’m not holding my breath.”