Butler University students and staff are hopeful that study abroad will proceed in Spring 2020. Collegian file photo.
ALISON MICCOLIS | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
As colleges and universities across the country are still working to keep students safe and healthy on campus, there is another decision that is looming overhead. Schools have to decide if study away programs, both abroad and domestic, are a viable option and whether they can ensure students’ safety in these external environments.
Calie Dickey, the associate director of study abroad, said around 10% of undergraduate students study abroad during their collegiate years — at Butler, that number is far greater, with around 40% of undergraduate students going abroad during their time on campus.
But with a global pandemic still in effect and all fall study abroad programs being canceled, students are concerned over what the future of study abroad may look like.
Shelby Mohr, a junior international studies and political science double major, is planning on studying in Germany in the spring semester. However, she knows there is a very real possibility that her trip may be canceled.
“My biggest worry is not going at all,” Mohr said. “When this all started, I thought I was in the clear. I thought it would be over in a couple of months and now it’s very possible that I won’t be able to go at all which stinks.”
The Center for Global Education has been working to track information as it changes each week about what sending students abroad in the spring would look like.
Dickey shared how her office is staying optimistic and trying to assemble all the available information before making any decisions.
“We want students to move forward with spring as though it is 100% going to happen but also have a second and third backup option, just similar to what is happening in the world in general with COVID,” Dickey said. “We are looking at a lot of different factors on whether or not it is safe for our students to go somewhere.”
Some of those factors include the U.S. Department of State’s travel advisories, the CDC guidelines, if airlines are flying to different countries and if students have to quarantine upon their arrival to their destinations.
In addition, Dickey and her office are hoping to make more nuanced decisions this spring, something they were not able to do this fall.
“In the fall, it was just nobody is going, the world is not looking good, and we just need to hold up for a little bit,” Dickey said. “For the spring, we are hoping that we will be able to make country-specific decisions if it comes down to that. But hopefully we can just send students wherever they want to go.”
While there is still some uncertainty surrounding study abroad in the near future, McKenzie Theis, a senior strategic communications major, encourages anyone who has the opportunity to go abroad to take it. Theis was abroad in Italy in spring 2020.
Originally, her semester abroad was supposed to begin in February and end in June. To her surprise, Butler informed Theis that she had to leave the country by March 2, just one month after she arrived. However, even though her time was cut short, she shared a lesson she learned from her experience.
“I’m a huge planner and what I learned, especially with COVID involved, is you just have to do it,” Theis said. “I was planning trips for May when I should have been figuring out something to do for the weekend. I learned there is so much value in being present and making the most out of every day.”
In addition to the international study abroad programs, Butler is optimistic that they will be able to move forward with Washington D.C. learning semester this spring. Rusty Jones, the faculty director of engaged learning, shared where he stands on the issue at this point in the semester.
“Where we are right now, we are very hopeful that the D.C. program will happen,” Jones said. “Decisions will ultimately come from the provost office, but we are certainly hopeful right now, and we are trying to go as long as we can to make sure we have all of the information we need to do this safely.”
Butler students who study in Washington D.C. complete an internship that relates to their major or area of study. They are also given the chance to connect with the alumni associations in the area to form connections and seek out possible opportunities for after graduation. Since the internship is a large part of why students participate in the program, Jones wants to make sure that experience will be available for them.
“You want to make sure it really maximizes the experience, and for a lot of these students, their goal after graduation is to move to one of these cities, and this internship is often such an important stepping stone for that,” Jones said.
For Mohr, the uncertainty surrounding her spring semester does not outweigh her excitement — as her program in Germany will focus on the European Union.
“I would love to work abroad and live abroad when I am older,” Mohr said. “I would love to work for the European Union, so I am excited to learn about that. Oh, and of course, traveling. I have been to Europe once, but I can’t wait to go back, hopefully, and see all the amazing sights there are to see.”
For anyone considering studying abroad, in the near or distant future, both Dickey and Jones gave the same advice: plan early, even if you are not completely sure what you want to do or where you want to go.
“Think about it as soon as possible, plan for it, and know that it is an incredible opportunity that you won’t get anywhere else,” Dickey said.
If students are looking for more information on study abroad, they can contact Caitlin Moore in the study abroad office. For students interested in the Washington D.C. learning semester, they can email Rusty Jones.