Claire Li/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

With University-sponsored study-abroad programs, Cornellians are taking their studies beyond Ithaca, spending their semesters in places such as Italy and the United Kingdom.

February 23, 2023

Despite Difficulties from Russian-Ukrainian War, Study Abroad Programs Foster Students’ Exploration of Countries Across Globe

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Two years after study-abroad programs resumed — following a suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic — and one year after the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war, students shared their experiences navigating global challenges and exploring new destinations, such as the United Kingdom and Italy.

On Tuesday, Feb. 7, the Einaudi Center for International Studies hosted a study abroad fair in Willard Straight Hall. The fair served as an opportunity to showcase current study-abroad programs that the Office of Global Learning offers to students.

The study abroad programs offer courses of study across different academic concentrations and in various countries and territories. Students have the opportunity to travel during the semester, or over summer and winter breaks through programs like Ghana Summer Program, which focuses on United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and the winter program in Ecuador, which emphasizes the politics of sustainable development. 

The University’s colleges also offer their own exchange programs. For example, Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics of Management has an exchange opportunity with Instituto de Empresa University in Madrid. The College of Engineering runs an exchange program with Technical University of Denmark, and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations facilitates a program with the Queen Mary University of London. 

Study abroad opportunities allow students to explore different countries to which they otherwise likely would not have traveled. In the Sea Education Association Semester: Caribbean Reef Expedition program, students embark on research projects, studying Caribbean reefs. Cornellians applying to abroad programs are encouraged to consider the diverse array of destinations available, such as Tel Aviv, Auckland and Kyoto.

Depending on the exchange school or college, different programs have different requirements, like having a specific grade-point average or ensuring graduation in four years. However, the Office of Global Learning allows for academic flexibility for students to coordinate their study abroad plans with their degree plans. 

Rina Hisajima ’24, who is studying at Cambridge University this semester, commented on the institution’s flexibility regarding learning and coursework. She discussed how classes are paper-based and terms are shorter, lasting only around eight weeks. 

“The most important component of the papers are the supervisions, and those are one-on-one with your supervisor,” Hisajima said. “During supervisions, my supervisor assigns certain readings to me and gives me a question for an essay that I have to write by the next version, which is the next week.” 

Students in other programs described that the universities at which they have studied adopt a unique teaching approach, emphasizing collaborative in-classroom learning opportunities and student-led initiatives.

“It is a different type of learning — it’s a lot more hands-on and group projects,” said Lauryn Weintraub ’24, who is currently abroad on the Danish Institute for Study Abroad Copenhagen program. “It’s a different style of teaching here. There is a lot more discussion [with] smaller classes.”

Margaret Woodburn ’23 shared her experiences participating in the ILR Exchange: Cardiff University in the United Kingdom during the Fall 2021 semester and China Educational Tours’ Florence program in Italy during the Spring 2022 semester.

“They definitely focus [more] on an in-person learning experience and getting to know the culture,” Woodburn said. “They want you to enjoy Italy.” 

In addition to their learning within the classroom, students are encouraged to engage with the local culture. According to Woodburn and Weintraub, classes are usually offered three to four days a week, allowing students the opportunity to plan activities and travel around the country. 

However, the Russian-Ukrainian war that broke out last February has impacted students’ experiences in many of these host countries. The war has generated a number of crises in Europe, from energy instability to rising inflation issues, presenting a barrier for Cornell students abroad. 

Woodburn described the initial shock she experienced after the war broke out while she was abroad in Italy.

“I was definitely watching the New York Times’ updates in class,” Woodburn said. “I know that there were people [studying] in Budapest that were explicitly told they could be evacuated to the United States.”

Woodburn described how she traveled to Berlin at the beginning of the Ukraine war and saw Ukrainian refugees arriving in Germany at a train station. 

“It definitely brought it [the war] a lot closer to home,” Woodburn said. “To imagine they had just escaped a war zone that previously was an operating country felt very scary because it could be anyone.”

However, the war still remains relevant one year later, and students currently abroad feel its impacts. Weintraub explained how the war has affected students’ decisions to travel within Europe. 

“People are more cautious when traveling,” Weintraub said. “They draw an invisible border on the map, and they won’t go more east than that.” 

Weintraub also commented on Europe’s energy crisis, which they said has affected students’ daily lives. As energy prices continue to rise after Russia cut off the continent’s supply, European countries have launched efforts to regulate energy consumption.   

“I know some people living with a host family will only let them shower at certain times — when the water is cheaper. [They often] tell them to turn off the lights [too],” Weintraub said. 

Hisajima echoed Weintraub’s sentiment, adding that she has limited access to heating due to the energy shortage.

“My room is heated only for five hours in a day and then for the rest of the time it’s just as cool as it is outside,” Hisajima said. “Comfort is definitely prioritized more than energy efficiency in the US.”

Despite unique challenges and missing Cornell’s campus and her friends, Hisajima stressed that her main focus is taking advantage of her opportunity to study abroad.

“While I do miss Cornell, I’m just really focused on things that are happening here and taking it all in,” Hisajima said. “I really think it’s a unique opportunity to learn and experience a new perspective, and I don’t want to miss out on any of it.”