WU suspends all study abroad programs for spring semester

Orli Sheffey | Staff Reporter

All spring 2021 study abroad programs are suspended due to COVID-19 concerns, the Office of Overseas Programs announced Friday.

The Office of Overseas Programs (OOP) emailed prospective study abroad students in August to convey the uncertainty of Spring 2021 programs, but allowed Spring 2021 applications to proceed with conditional acceptance and terms of participation. Although OOP initially said the University’s decision about the approval of spring study abroad programs would be communicated by the first week of October, an Oct. 8. follow-up email stated that additional time was needed to monitor global conditions and evaluate programs based on health, safety, risk and academic considerations. On Oct. 30, prospective students received an email stating that all spring 2021 study abroad programs were canceled.

According to Director of Overseas Programs Amy Suelzer, the two main considerations were the global COVID-19 conditions and each program’s ability to support students in the current environment. While Suelzer initially thought some programs would be able to move forward, news of spiking COVID-19 infections in countries such as Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Czech Republic—all places where Washington University students study abroad—led to the suspension of all programs.

“We determined that the forecasts were so grim that regardless of how strong the protocols were on any individual program, the local conditions were probably not going to be conducive,” Suelzer said.

Junior Olivia Schotz, who had planned to participate in the Psychology and Sciences program at Amsterdam University, said that her program’s cancellation was not surprising, since the forecast for the pandemic had not improved.

“I was definitely disappointed, but it was expected,” Schotz said. “I was more frustrated at the fact that it took them so long to come out with the decision…It was pretty clear that the program wasn’t going to happen well before they told us.”

Suelzer said that while the University hoped conditions would improve, they didn’t feel that it would be fair to students to push the decision back further than they already had.

“The biggest challenge is that nobody has a crystal ball,” Suelzer said. “All we could do is look at the projections for the limited timeframe that we had, and people need to make plans. People need to think about whether they need to have housing in St. Louis or whether they’re going abroad. People need to think about what their courses are going to look like.”

Schotz said that while Overseas Programs “seems to have done the best they could to try to keep the program going,” she felt like she “was just waiting and waiting and waiting for information that was not coming.”

“The hardest part of my job over the last seven or eight months has been communicating decisions that prevent a student from studying abroad,” Suelzer said. “It’s been absolutely devastating.”

Suelzer is hopeful that there will be study abroad opportunities in the summer, fall and spring of next year.

“We’ve already encouraged any student who had an open application for summer of 2020, fall of 2020, or spring of 2021 to study abroad in their senior year,” Suelzer said. “We are fully supportive of that and we’ll do everything that we can to help them make that happen.”

Junior Emily Cohen, who had planned to participate in the Engineering, Science and Math Program in Madrid, deferred her application to fall 2021. She said that whether or not she attends depends on the conditions.

“I definitely still want to go if that’s an option and if we can have a somewhat normal experience,” Cohen said. “If we can’t leave the city or country, I’m not sure what I’ll decide to do.”

Schotz said she plans to defer her study abroad application to spring 2022, even though it is her last semester of college.

“Everything’s kind of been put in perspective,” Schotz said. “I’d much rather go abroad and have that full experience.”

“Our students have been remarkable through this whole process,” Suelzer said. “The level of flexibility tolerance of ambiguity has been really heartening.”

Suelzer encouraged students who can no longer fit studying abroad into their undergraduate experience to connect with the Office of Overseas Programs for post-graduate international opportunities.

“We really hope that they will stay connected to international things, even during the time when travel is impossible, and look for ways to incorporate international experiences into their lives going forward, whether it’s study abroad or something else,” Suelzer said. “It is so enriching; it provides a layer to your life’s experiences that’s hard to replicate otherwise.”

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