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Spring 2021 study abroad programs intend to run, remain subject to change

| Thursday, August 20, 2020

The cancellation of Notre Dame study abroad programs began with Rome. Next, all students studying abroad in the spring were recalled to the U.S. Then, summer and fall study abroad programs were cancelled.

The pandemic has forced the hand of Notre Dame International to suspend its study abroad programs, which rank the University seventh in the country for study abroad programming.

As of now, the University plans to run all 45 of its spring 2021 study abroad programs, but the coronavirus pandemic looms large over the programs’ existence. 

“At this time the University fully intends to run all Spring 2021 study abroad programs and will proceed accordingly.” Notre Dame International said in an email sent to students planning on studying abroad in the spring Aug. 10.

The email informed students their pre-departure meetings specific to their programs will begin soon, while also urging students to refrain from buying any pre-departure purchases such as plane tickets until they receive further direction from their program directors. 

The situation is subject to change as long as the pandemic continues, senior director of global education Hong Zhu said in an email.

“The decision may change as we continue to monitor the situation around the globe in the coming weeks,” Zhu said. 

Zhu explained that Notre Dame International is continuing to consider a variety of different factors affecting the future of study abroad. These include, but are not limited to, the COVID-19 response and healthcare capacity of each partner country, as well as its flight and visa restrictions. Additionally, Notre Dame International is basing future decisions on U.S. Department of State and Center for Disease Control and Prevention travel guidelines, as well as each host institutions’ preparedness for in-person instruction and safeguarding against the virus. 

The possibility of canceling some or all the study abroad programs remains contingent upon these considerations, and Zhu said either of these situations are possible.

“We plan for different scenarios, and we conduct risk assessments program by program and country by country,” Zhu said. “With health and safety conditions improving in some countries while deteriorating in others, we will continue to monitor daily the health and safety environments of all program locations.”

Zhu, citing associate director of international travel and safety Jaime Signoracci, said there are always safety concerns running study abroad programs and the University has always followed a risk-based decision-making model in selecting safe program locations.

“Living with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future now requires everyone’s vigilance in strictly adhering to health and social measures (both national and local) to control the spread in the community we are a part of,” she said. “This is the same for our campus here and will be the same for any study abroad programs that run in the spring.”

Zhu and Signoracci said COVID-19 training will be part of the student pre-departure meetings. There, the students will also receive clear sets of behavioral expectations for their time abroad. 

On June 8, Notre Dame announced the cancellation of all fall 2020 study abroad programs. In the same announcement, study abroad offered students who had planned to study abroad in the fall the option to be accommodated into the spring version of their programs, as well as the opportunity to participate in summer 2021 and fall 2021 programs. 

According to Zhu, of the 386 students scheduled to study abroad in the fall, 170 of them chose to study abroad in the spring semester. Currently, 611 students are scheduled to study abroad in the spring semester. 

Junior Clare Stoyell-Mulholland was supposed to study abroad in Santiago, Chile this fall, before she opted to study in the spring semester 2021.

“I would rather take my chance that I will be going and will be able to get that experience, than miss out on it.” 

A neuroscience major with a peace studies minor, Stoyell-Mulholland chose to study in Chile to improve her Spanish, explore the country and build community with the other students of the relatively small program, among other reasons. 

However, she was not confident the program will happen and she expressed some concern over traveling during the pandemic.

“Honestly, I’m more concerned for Chile,” she said. “I don’t think Chile will want people from the United States to go.”

Stoyell-Mulholland said she had faith in the University to not send students if the situation remains unsafe. 

She continued, “If we’re going to be negatively affecting that country, I don’t think study abroad should go.” 

Stoyell-Mulholland was thankful to study abroad for waiving the withdrawal fee in the fall, but wished they would do the same for the spring semester. 

All spring study abroad students, including the ones who transferred their acceptance from the fall, had until Aug. 10 to withdraw from their program without being fined the fee, which starts at $200 and gradually increases as the start date of the specific program draws nearer. However, due to the extenuating circumstances, students may not have to pay the withdrawal fee. 

“The fees have always been waived for students for medical or other compelling reasons,” Zhu said. 

Junior Michael McElroy was supposed to be studying in Rome this semester. A lover of Italian culture, history, and language, he was disappointed when the program was canceled, as he had never been overseas before.

“That being said, I was not surprised because the COVID-19 pandemic had devastated Italy even before the United States,” he said in an email.

McElroy chose to transfer his acceptance and learned he could attend Rome in the spring. He said all fall students were allowed to list up to two other programs they’d be willing to attend, but Rome was always his first choice.

However, McElroy said he has prepared himself for the strong possibility of spring programs being canceled.

“Considering the fact that the U.S. continues to present an abysmal response to the pandemic, I’m fairly pessimistic that Americans will even be allowed into the EU by next spring,” he said.

While he was concerned about the safety of traveling abroad, he suspected the University would cancel its programs if the situation remains a threat to students’ health.

“So it’s not even so much my decision’,” he said.

Walsh Hall junior Paige Cooper is scheduled to study in Puebla, Mexico this spring. The psychology major minoring in the Hesburgh Program of Public Service chose the program because she was attracted to the program’s host family residence feature to improve her Spanish and as a member of the Band of the Fighting Irish, she didn’t want to miss the football season. 

Cooper said in an email she was skeptical of her program’s vitality.

“I think the chances that other countries will open their borders to the U.S. by the spring are slim unless we get a vaccine,” she said. 

Cooper said she almost withdrew from the program, but changed her mind.

“Every important decision in my life has happened by accident so I just decided to let the universe decide for me,” she said.

Cooper added she’s now concerned it was the right decision, as Notre Dame has moved classes online for the next two weeks.

“I’m afraid we’ll be sent home again, and there’s a possibility I won’t see any of my friends until senior year,” she said. 

Zhu stressed the department will be transparent with students regarding the process in the upcoming weeks.

“We understand that the disruptions to the spring 2020 study abroad programs and the cancellations of summer and fall 2020 programs have been very disappointing to students,” she said. “While we very much hope that the pandemic around the globe will continue to improve and study abroad will be a reality in spring 2021, students’ health and safety will always be a top priority when the decisions are being made.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story identified Clare Stoyell-Mulholland’s last name incorrectly. The Observer regrets this error.

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