Boris Tsang/Sun Senior Photographer

The Ithaca Tompkins International Airport last March. Over a year later, study abroad programs remain limited.

April 15, 2021

Pandemic Complicates Student Study Abroad Plans, Adjusting Expectations for Limited Experiences

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In a normal year, Cornell students seek immersive study abroad programs all over the world. However, following the Office of Global Learning’s semester announcements that study abroad programs would be suspended for fall 2020 and then spring 2021, student plans to learn elsewhere still face massive disruptions.

Students across the University have seen their programs cancelled, forcing them to scramble for new academic plans and reevaluate the worth of studying abroad.  

As a chemical engineering major, Christine Lambert ’23 can only choose from two study abroad programs –– and she had to shift from her preferred summer experience to a new one in Spain.

“Between being sent home early last year and missing out on my freshmen spring plus an extended Thanksgiving break last semester, the biggest turn off for me is less time on campus,” Lambert said. 

Anthony Sheehi ’22, an information science and Asain studies double major, has been trying to study abroad since the fall of 2019. 

After being accepted into the CET Osaka program last spring, Sheehi had already completed all post-acceptance procedures, including submitting housing preferences and writing essays to be placed in classes. When the program was cancelled for the fall 2020 semester, Sheehi scrambled to pre-enroll and find housing in Ithaca to allow him to return to campus.

When the Office of Global Learning released an approved program list for the Fall of 2021, Sheehi was disheartened to see that the CET program was not included. With his scholarships nullified, he began a new application process for a different language intensive study abroad program in Kyoto — the Consortium for Japanese Studies.

Lambert also had to shift her sights to a different study abroad program because of schedule changes. The summer program that originally piqued her interest was similar to an internship with hands-on work, but the program available to her next spring is an exchange with a Spanish university. She will have to spend a month in Spain before the program to improve her language skills.

As prospective study abroad students consider their options moving forward, COVID-19 risk is not the primary concern. 

Laura Holland ’22 is fully vaccinated, and she hopes to experience life in the pandemic outside of the US. Though she originally planned to study at the American School in Greece, she has shifted her sights to Queen-Mary University in England in order to experience London without having to travel Europe.

Neha Blair ’23 may not be able to live with a host family, even if she can study abroad in Paris next spring.

Students like Blair worry that they won’t attain a key study abroad experience: staying with a family in the country they visit. While living with a host family wouldn’t be the determining factor for Blair in choosing to study abroad, she believes that a homestay would greatly affect her experiences.

Sheehi’s program has axed homestay because of the pandemic, though it would normally be an essential part of his program. He expressed his disappointment, but he also acknowledged the safety concerns involved in staying with a family and travelling around Japan.

The ability to travel poses a concern for Lambert, as well. “I don’t want to go and just take classes because I can do that at Cornell,” she said. “A huge part of studying abroad is experiencing the culture and being able to go places you wouldn’t otherwise.”

Recognizing the safety risks, however, Lambert chose to attend a study abroad program in England instead of Greece. She believes that placing herself inside a cosmopolitan area will allow her to gain experiences without traveling across Europe.

Course planning is also a factor for students like Blair and Sheehi as they craft new plans to study abroad. 

Blair will have to plan her courses in Hotel Administration carefully to be able to use her free credits abroad. She plans to conduct a culinary or hotel-related internship while she studies abroad in order to stay on track. 

Despite limitations on studying abroad, Sheehi remains optimistic. 

“After not being able to go last fall I have adopted the mindset where I can’t expect it to happen,” he said, “but it would be great if it does.”