By Megan Loock
Elm Staff Writer
With the return to in-person classes, the Global Education Office hopes to reinstate the Study Abroad Program this year. However, uncertainties still remain as travel advisories are still in effect.
On Oct. 12 last year, all study abroad programs were postponed for the 2021 spring semester, but on Feb. 9, the Global Education Office announced via email that they will be moving forward with the program for the fall 2021 semester, opening applications for both the 2021 fall semester and all-year programs.
GEO also developed virtual abroad programs, including studying virtually with partner institutions, customized programs specifically designed for WC students, virtual internships, and Collaborative Online International Learning Projects.
Back in October, The Elm reported that Associate Dean for International Education and Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish Dr. Rebeca Moreno taught Advanced Conversation in the spring which had a COIL Project component. This program replaced the previously cancelled study abroad program in the spring 2021 semester. Students in the class worked and studied with students at La Universidad Iberoamericana in the Dominican Republic.
According to The Elm, partner institutions offered different virtual global experiences. For example, Universidad Católica Argentina offered a two-week virtual exchange program for WC students focused on business, Latin American studies, or Spanish-language studies.
While it is unknown if COIL and other programs are continuing this year, Assistant Director of the Global Education Office Sarah Lyle says that they hope they can continue this program.
The GEO planned to have five of six students study abroad in countries including the Netherlands, Ireland, and England, but these plans were cancelled due to continuing travel restrictions by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to Lyle, one student was able to travel and is experiencing a virtual semester in South Korea.
“From the beginning, we informed students that we would make a decision on the feasibility [of the study abroad program] by July 1 because we wanted to give students time for their plan B which would be registering for classes at Washington College,” Lyle said.
The GEO bases its decisions on the travel advisories enforced by the CDC and the U.S. State Department. According to Lyle, if a country reaches a level three — meaning to reconsider travel — or a level four — meaning to not travel to that location — they will not send any student or faculty member abroad.
It was also a challenge to bring international students onto the WC campus on time for the start of the 2021-2022 academic year. According to Lyle, the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for them to send important documents — including student visas and passport information — through the mail.
Additionally, appointments at embassies to obtain a student visa are hard to get because they require in-person interviews which are currently difficult to schedule as well.
As of March 1, 43 out of 233 consular posts were operating at full capacity, according
to the U.S. State Department.
Because of this persisting issue, junior Dasha Shirokova, a four-year independent international student from Russia, is currently waiting to receive her student visa. She had trouble obtaining her visa for a year and a half largely due to the fact that the embassies in Russia are closed permanently and it is extremely rare for other embassies to accept cases from non-residents.
“It has been quite stressful since we had to travel half the globe to get here, and now I am missing the first two weeks of in-person classes,” Shirokova said. “But we are so grateful for this opportunity, and we believe it is totally worth it.”
Shirokova said she contacted over 50 countries over the summer and was denied until an American embassy in Nicaragua finally took her application.
However, Shirokova said that her “situation is quite unique and does not really represent the real situation with studying abroad and student visas.”
Despite Shirokova’s situation, WC will be hosting 42 international students this year. Eleven of these students will participate in the exchange program either for the fall semester or for the whole year. thirty-one are four-year students, meaning they are enrolled to attend WC for four-years rather than participating in an exchange program.
As of right now, she is studying remotely as she still goes through the visa process, but expresses excitement to return to campus.
“When I get my passport back, I am flying back to the United States and getting on campus as soon as possible,” Shirokova said. “I miss campus life so much and I am so excited to be back and have in-person classes.”
Lyle “encourage[s] the students at WC to reach out to the Global Education Office in general but to really try to meet international students.”
Photo by Samantha Jarrett