By MacKenzie Brady
On Monday, Oct. 12, the Global Education Office sent out an email announcing the decision to cancel all in-person study abroad programs for Spring 2021.
“Along with our legal team at Washington College, we have created COVID-19 policies for study abroad and those policies are very specific to the reality we are living right now,” Associate Dean for International Education and Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish Dr. Rebeca Moreno said.
GEO has monitored the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on countries and institutions with which WC has study abroad partnerships. Using travel restrictions and safety guidelines set forth by the United States Department of State and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, GEO determined that it is unsafe for students to study abroad for the Spring 2021 semester.
The U.S. Department of State has a system of four travel advisory levels. In order for students to study abroad, their host country’s travel advisory cannot exceed a level two, which suggests travelers “Exercise Increased Caution.”
The CDC has a system of three tiers in terms of precautions related to COVID-19. Similarly, precautions cannot exceed a level two from the CDC, which suggests people “Practice Enhanced Precautions.”
According to Dr. Moreno, most of WC’s study abroad locations are at a level three or four on these tiered systems, so it was decided that it was not safe for students to travel abroad.
A third consideration for GEO is the travel restrictions the countries with WC’s partner institutions have in place. Most of these countries have travel bans on U.S. citizens, according to Dr. Moreno.
“We didn’t want to cancel all the programs for the entire year because we wanted students to have the opportunity to go abroad if the conditions permitted, but it was not the case,” Dr. Moreno said.
While in-person study abroad programs were canceled for the spring, GEO is designing a portfolio of virtual global learning opportunities.
According to the Oct. 12 email, it is GEO’s goal to “provide [students] with engaging virtual global experiences that are in alignment with our rigorous academic standards.”
“We are very sorry we cannot run our in-person programs, but we are developing new programs for students to have all the opportunities that you should have during this remote learning experience,” Dr. Moreno said.
According to Moreno, GEO is working on four different virtual experiences for the Spring 2021 semester: studying virtually with partner institutions, customized programs specifically designed for WC students, virtual internships, and Collaborative Online International Learning Projects.
Partner institutions are offering different virtual global experiences. For example, Universidad Católica Argentina is offering a two-week virtual exchange program for WC students focused on business, Latin American studies, or Spanish-language studies.
Another example is a provider in Dublin, Ireland, which would work with a WC professor to create a customized one-week program based on the interests of the student.
Dr. Moreno is teaching Advanced Conversation in the spring which will have a COIL Project component. Students in the class will be working and studying with students at La Universidad Iberoamericana, or UNIBE, in the Dominican Republic.
According to Dr. Moreno, many professors could join the COIL program and offer small virtual exchange programs within their own classes.
“We are going to begin [COIL] in the spring semester and we hope to grow from there to be able to offer it in the coming semesters as well,” Dr. Moreno said.
These programs and their offerings have not yet been finalized.
GEO plans to have the virtual portfolio of exchange programs available in November. All of the programs outlined in the portfolio will be offered during the Spring semester.
Applications for virtual internships should be available at the beginning of the spring semester. Virtual study abroad opportunities will not be offered until closer to the end of the semester.
These virtual global experiences will be credit-bearing learning opportunities.
“In the [GEO], we are working really hard to make sure we offer global education experiences or international experiences or intercultural experiences for students next semester because one, we want you to be engaged with the global communities during this hectic and challenging time. I think that now more than ever we need to come together collectively and globally to think critically about the challenges that we are facing…We are committed to your global education and we will continue working towards that,” Dr. Moreno said.
Study abroad decisions will continue to be made on a semester-by-semester basis as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change.
GEO is not only working to resolve how programs are being affected by COVID-19, but to ensure international students are getting a full WC experience as well.
10 first-year international students were unable to enter the U.S. to study virtually because of U.S. government regulations for Fall 2020. They are instead taking classes at home in different time zones. Eight other international students either deferred their enrollment plans to Fall 2021 or decided not to enroll at WC.
According to Dr. Moreno, it is uncertain if those international students will be able to enter the U.S. for the spring semester because of immigration regulations.
“We hope to be able to welcome them on campus as soon as possible,” Dr. Moreno said. “If those policies are somehow changed from now until January — before the beginning of our semester — GEO will work to be able to bring those students to campus.”
GEO is meeting regularly with international students to create a virtual community and answer their questions about WC.
Some international students are currently living on campus. GEO has been providing support for these students as well as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
GEO is continuing to run some of their normal events and programming virtually in order to stay in communication with international students.
WC has temporarily stopped running their semester and year-long exchange programs. Dr. Moreno hopes the exchange program will be available again in Fall 2021.
Featured Photo caption: The Global Education Office announced the cancelation of in-person study abroad programs for the Spring 2021 semester after continued travel warnings and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo By Izze Rios.