COVID-19 causes uncertainty in Study Abroad planning


Hallway outside empty study abroad offices, with empty bulletin boards. Photo credit: Kate Nuelle

Photos by Kate Nuelle

With a plethora of study abroad programs, and boasting a large number of international students, Trinity prides itself on the depth of its international connections. But with international travel becoming a thing of the past due to COVID-19, the university’s study abroad office has had to adapt, charting new territory and planning ahead.

Following the cancellation of programming in April for Fall 2020, students are left unsure of when their next opportunity to study abroad will be.

“The big question is ‘Will they be able to go abroad in spring?’” said Andre Martinez, Assistant Director for Study Abroad. “The answer is that we hope so, but we don’t know if it is going to happen. … We’re not sure what’s going to happen in the spring, but we’re looking at it and we’re working with various offices on campus to make that decision.”

The office is looking to announce their decision regarding study abroad for Spring 2021 by Oct. 15.

For many juniors and seniors who were planning to study abroad within the 2020-2021 academic year, plans have changed entirely due to cancellations and the uncertainty surrounding future international travel opportunities.

“For the first-years and sophomores, time is on their side, but if you’re a junior or senior now, what do you do?,” said Martinez. “That opportunity may be too late, so students are feeling really bad about it.”

Among those students is Lara Beth Case, senior business administration and marketing double-major, and one of several students who wished to study abroad later in their college career.

“I don’t have any plans to study abroad for 2021. I am graduating in May, so I don’t really want to go on the Shanghai trip after I’ve already graduated,” said Case. “I’m planning on going to graduate school and a couple of [the graduate school programs] start in the summer, so it’s also just not really an option.”

For students missing out on the experience of study abroad, Martinez and his team are working on ways to bring similar experiences to campus. This summer, Martinez worked with five students to provide virtual online language programs with international schools, and one who had a remote internship with an international partner.

Old bulletin board put up by the Center for International Engagement.
Old bulletin board put up by the Center for International Engagement.

“We’re figuring out other ways to internationalize the campus without students actually having to go abroad,” said Martinez. “It doesn’t replace going abroad, but maybe it’s something else that we can do.”

In the meantime, the Study Abroad Office is looking ahead to Summer 2021 programming, hoping to take students to Germany, Japan and Costa Rica, among other sites. With this planning comes additional precautions due to COVID-19 health and safety measures.

“We’re looking at the social distancing on-site for each location, what are the different safety measures they’re taking at each site. As well as, for Madrid, home stays. Our students are not gonna be allowed at-home stays because they cannot guarantee that the visitors that are brought in have been abiding by COVID restrictions,” said Martinez. “As much as they will vet the home stays, it’s just not possible, so IES made the decision to put the students in dormitory residences I guess until a vaccine is found.”

Along with planning for Summer 2021, the Study Abroad office is amid preparations for the annual study abroad fair, which will be taking place virtually this year over a two-week period beginning Sept. 21.

“We feel that there are a lot of first-year students that are here who are not gonna go abroad for one or two years, maybe even three years when they’re a rising senior, so I think by skipping the fair we’d be wasting an opportunity at informing students via outreach.”

With no students traveling this summer, Study Abroad staff took advantage of the break to redesign their website, extensively prepare for the fair and to aid students who were abruptly sent home in the spring.

“Program providers were not ready for COVID, I mean, I don’t think anybody was. … I think it was the moment for a lot of the programming providers to take responsibility and shine and many of them did, but some failed gloriously, just big-time,” said Martinez.

While some students received refunds for emergency airfare and expenses, Martinez and the Study Abroad office have worked to ensure that those who did not get help from their programs are refunded by the university. Of the 60 students who went abroad in Spring 2020, 33 were not refunded at all or enough by their programs and were instead refunded by Trinity.

“That was painful, but Trinity said, ‘Well, we’re going to do what’s right,’ and I’m very happy about that, the administration is helping with airfare and other expenses that students have had,” said Martinez. “It was wrong to not be able to help our students that went abroad, you know? So I’m happy that Trinity is stepping up.”