WU suspends all fall study abroad programs, citing spread of COVID-19 variants

white squares of paper with names of different countries, pictures of students in exotic locations and blocks of text are pinned to a brown cork boardCurran Neenan | Student Life

A board in the Office of Overseas Programs features the experiences of different students who studied abroad.

Washington University has suspended all undergraduate study abroad programs for the fall 2021 semester, the Office of Overseas Programs announced in a Wednesday afternoon email to students planning to study abroad.

The Office of Overseas Programs (OOP) cited several factors for the suspension, such as the spread of COVID-19 variants, uncertainty surrounding the efficacy of current vaccines against future variants and current recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of State advising against international travel. Still, the decision left students frustrated.

“Honestly I don’t [agree with the University’s decision],” said junior Lacy Wilder, who had planned to study abroad in Toulouse, France this fall. “I understand their reasoning in terms of being overly cautious, and especially given France’s situation right now, I understand why they wouldn’t want to have people traveling abroad. But as we have seen throughout the pandemic, so much can change so rapidly, that making a decision for September based on the state of France right now really doesn’t seem legitimate.”

Although the CDC acknowledges that “international travel poses additional risks and even fully vaccinated travelers are at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading new COVID-19 variants,” it does not directly advise against international travel for fully vaccinated people. The U.S. Department of State has also not advised against international travel altogether; instead, it has a list of travel advisories for different countries, with most countries listed as “do not travel.”

Regardless of travel recommendations, the OOP said that decision was made to protect the wellbeing of both University students and the global community. “Aligned with the university’s values, we also feel a responsibility towards the communities our travelers would enter,” the email read.

Sejal Rajamani, a sophomore who was planning on studying abroad as part of the SIT Australia: Rainforest, Reef, and Cultural Ecology program in Cairns, Australia, expressed discontent with the University’s decision.

“It’s four months away, and I feel like that’s really early to make a decision about this, especially considering I was planning to study abroad in Australia and they’re like, one of the gold standards for how they’ve been dealing with COVID,” Rajamani said. “I understand canceling study abroad for certain countries that may be struggling a little bit more, but I feel like there should be some sort of system where like countries that are doing a little bit better, maybe you can study abroad there.”

Students who wish to defer their study abroad applications to the spring 2022 semester are encouraged to contact their study abroad advisors to discuss that possibility. The OOP also noted that non-refundable deposits or unrecoverable program fees are the responsibility of the student.

Wilder does not plan on delaying her study abroad program to the spring, citing a desire to spend her last college semester on campus.

“With regards to fall study abroad, I have a whole contingency plan in place,” Wilder said. “I registered for classes, I secured housing, so logistically, I’m fine. It’s mostly just disappointing.”

Wilder added that as a French major, she had considered studying abroad in France to be a crucial part of her academic experience, in addition to the novelty of living abroad.

“For me this experience was not just about cultural exploration, it was also a lot about language acquisition… that’s something that I was really looking forward to,” Wilder said. “So personally, I feel like I won’t get as much out of my major from not having this experience, and then I also won’t get to form a lot of those relationships and a lot of those connections and have a lot of those cultural experiences that I was looking for, out of studying abroad.”

Rajamani, like Wilder, is now planning on not studying abroad in college, as her commitment to the spring track season makes it difficult for her to study abroad in the spring, and she does not want to study abroad her senior year.

“I wouldn’t want to miss half of a year of college senior year, so basically I’m just not going to study abroad now,” Rajamani said. However, she expressed gratitude that she at least managed to secure housing for the fall semester, as she is living with the people she was planning on sharing an apartment with in the spring.

“I think I’m lucky in that sense that I found somewhere,” she said. “I don’t think that’s the situation that most people would be in.”

Director of Overseas Programs Amy Suelzer did not respond to Student Life’s request for comment Wednesday afternoon. We will update this story once we have more information.

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