Study abroad programs from all around the world get cancelled – and it hurts

Photograph Courtesy of Jenni Berrios

Jenni Berrios

Ursinus College had 46 students scheduled to go abroad this semester to Africa, Europe, Central America, South America, Asia, and Australia. Going abroad for many counts as their XLP/ILE. But students are mostly excited to take a journey to a foreign place and embrace a new culture and language.

Programs in China were canceled first because of the rise in cases of COVID-19 there, and a student scheduled to go to Shanghai never even left. Other students abroad weren’t initially worried that they would experience that same cancellation. Then the disease spread to southern Italy, and then to the rest of the country. A student studying in Italy was asked to come back. 

Millie Drury ’21 was studying in Florence, Italy with CAPA. “I did not expect to be sent back early because I had spoken on the phone with [Director of International Programs] Paula Alvarez earlier in the week. My program had already sent options out where we could choose to either stay in Florence or leave and go home and I chose to stay in Florence after speaking with Paula and my family.” Drury had hoped to be able to stay despite problems on the other side of the country.

“I was really surprised and upset when I found out I had to go back to the US. But since my program was shutting down I knew there was nothing I could do about it. I decided to accept it for what it was and enjoy the rest of my time in Europe,” Drury said. 

The rest of Europe seemed safe until the pandemic started hitting Madrid, Spain. Abby Friedman ’21 was studying there through CIEE. “The thought [of leaving early] never crossed my mind until the very end,” she said.

I was studying abroad in the southern part of Spain, far away from the initial danger, but I was still stressed about being pulled out. It felt like a game of roulette because other students from the program were being pulled by their schools, and I was just waiting for my turn. Paula Alvarez assured me that Ursinus would not pull me from my program until Spain was at a “level 3” health advisory. I was relieved, and then 7 hours after the call Spain was at a level 3. Things changed from one second to another. To complicate things further, Trump set a travel ban. 

Under the ban, “you could only fly into 13 CDC approved airports in the US,” explains Sophie Auerbach, ’21, who was studying abroad in London with CAPA. This created some logistical difficulties. “I had to change my flight to go into one of those. Flights also were extremely expensive because everyone from mainland Europe was flying through London, since the ban was not in place for the UK at the time.” Many UC students studying abroad had issues. Even overseas in Costa Rica, Mary Fuchs struggled to find a flight back home. “My program was so stressed out that they took it upon themselves to take care of the flights.” 

Even though Latin America and Africa had few to no cases at the time, all abroad programs were shutting down, and ticket prices were high. Shayna Kushner, studying abroad in Morocco through CIEE, was worried she would not be able to leave the country. “The Moroccan government banned all international travel and then an hour later my program got cancelled. And I thought well this is it, I’m stuck here.” Thankfully, Kushner was able to get out and get back home to Massachusetts. 

There is a lot of bad news in the world right now, and getting called home from a study abroad program is nowhere near the worst of it. But this is not the way students had hoped that study abroad would go.