Citing the pandemic, Butler’s Center for Global Education has canceled all study abroad programs for the spring semester. Collegian file photo.
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Shock and disappointment — those were Emily Kacpura’s initial reactions when she was informed that all study abroad trips scheduled for spring 2021 had been canceled. The junior risk management and insurance major received an email that her study abroad application to go to Dublin, Ireland had been accepted just an hour before the cancellation email was sent out.
“It was just a disappointment to know that something that I really looked forward to and had wanted to do for a while isn’t happening,” Kacpura said.
In an email sent out on Oct. 6, Jill McKinney, Director of Global Engagement at Butler’s Center for Global Education, relayed the news to study abroad applicants. The cancellation applies to all three study abroad programs that Butler offers: faculty-led, international student exchange and third-party provider.
Along with overseas programs, the Washington, D.C. Learning Semester, which is typically offered to Butler students during both fall and spring semesters, has also been canceled. In conventional years, students on this program live and take classes in D.C. while pursuing internships with various government agencies and organizations.
McKinney illustrated how heartbroken she was to give the news to the approximately 65 students planning on studying abroad in the spring of 2021. But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a decision that had to be made.
“At this point, there’s just too much uncertainty,” McKinney said. “A U.S. passport does not actually permit access into some countries right now. The process for obtaining student visas in much of the world is not guaranteed. There’s various quarantine arrival policies for different countries and, at the end of the day, there were just more question marks than there were exclamation points related to the prospect of international travel.”
McKinney explained that it was better to notify students of the cancellation sooner rather than later.
“We wanted to make the decision with enough time for students to not be saddled with non-refundable expenses and to also give students enough time to pivot and consider their course registration and housing options for spring knowing that they would be on campus,” McKinney said.
Mikaela Schmitt, a junior arts administration major who planned to travel to Florence, Italy this spring, expressed her reaction to the timing of the cancellation.
“I felt like it was a little premature, considering some of the programs were still considering multiple contingencies,” Schmitt said. “But also, I do understand and appreciate that they were trying to let us know before enrollment and let us make some plans. So I do think Butler made the right decision.”
Students affected by the cancellation were encouraged to attend the CGE’s Study Abroad Fair which took place Oct. 5 through 11. The event showcased different types of study abroad programming and gave peer advocates who had previously studied abroad the opportunity to discuss their experiences.
The CGE is also offering individual advising opportunities for students who may choose to postpone their study abroad trips planned for this spring. Although this may be desirable for some, it is not an option for Kacpura.
“I think what makes it difficult is that I’m a junior so there’s really not a good time to do any other longer-term study abroad options for me, cause I want to be on campus for my senior year and I want to enjoy those experiences on campus,” Kacpura said.
Even those students interested in postponing their trips can face logistical burdens. Schmitt noted that she still wants to make the trip happen, but has financial obligations next fall for her senior house at Butler. Due to the cancellation, she now has to figure out what path to take for next year.
“Part of the issue is since we signed leases so early at Butler, I have a lease for my senior year already,” Schmitt said. “So I would have to try to find a way to sublease, or I would have to pay for rent while I’m not even living there, which would definitely be a lot more of a difficulty.”
McKinney emphasized how studying abroad often impacts students in a positive way and equips them with wisdom they can use after graduation.
“[Studying abroad] shows each individual student how capable they are to learn a new culture, live in a new place, try new things, and those skills become transferable,” McKinney said. “That independence, that capability, that confidence; those become transferable skills that you take into your professional life.”
Schmitt stressed the benefits of engaging with different ways of life.
“I think culturally, just being able to understand how other people live their lives is important, because America is such a specific lifestyle,” Schmitt said. “I really was looking forward to getting to appreciate different aspects of culture and appreciate people who aren’t maybe quite so focused on work and on possessions, but really just experiencing life.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered countless aspects of society and has fundamentally changed how people all around the world must function on a day-to-day basis. McKinney said She believes the pandemic has uncovered just how intricately connected the world is. As an international educator, she posed several questions regarding human reactions to COVID-19.
“I want to encourage everyone to pause and consider the different responses around the world to the COVID pandemic,” McKinney said. “What do the responses say about the values of a country and its people? How has COVID illuminated ways that global cooperation is working to solve large problems for humanity? Also, how does it expose the vulnerabilities? How do we, as Butler students and staff and faculty, express in our actions our intent to be good global citizens during this health crisis?”