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Missed opportunities: Students react to study abroad cancellations

April 16, 2020
Photo by Hope Ann Flores | The State News

Although many Michigan State students were disappointed their study abroads were canceled, they said they understood why.

“I know a handful of people who were also going to study abroad this summer and are disappointed it is not going to work out," hospitality business sophomore Claudia Andre said in an email. "We all made peace with it because we know how big of an issue COVID-19 is and the importance of staying home.”

Claudia Andre was set to go to Australia this summer, but in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, all MSU education abroad programs for the spring and summer semesters were suspended. 

Students who were already abroad when the decision was made had to return to the U.S. no later than March 17 and most were heavily screened by either the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or both, upon arrival, according to the Office for Education Abroad's website.

“Education abroad at MSU will certainly remain an opportunity for students once this unprecedented situation subsides," Cheryl Benner, communications manager in the Office for Education Abroad, said in an email. "However, it’s hard to say what the future will hold in terms of health and safety precautions. We will rely on the expert advice from RSAC (MSU's Risk and Assessment Committee) for those recommendations.”

Benner said the decision to suspend all programs was made by the interim provost following a recommendation from RSAC.

This isn’t the first time study abroads have been canceled by MSU, either. In recent years, programs in Hong Kong, Turkey, Israel, Mexico, Mali and Egypt were halted due to political unrest or rapid growth in crime and violence, Benner said.

“These suspensions are always due to safety and security reasons,” Benner said. “This would obviously include things like this year’s global pandemic, but programs have also been suspended for ... other health issues such as Swine Flu in 2009, SARS in 2003 and Foot & Mouth Disease in 2001.”

After learning about the university's decision, social relations and policy sophomore Troy Distelrath said he felt disappointed that his study abroad became a missed opportunity.

Distelrath was preparing to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem over the summer with James Madison College, and said he and his best friend had this trip planned for a while. 

“Aside from the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study in one of the most ancient cities in the world, I’m really disappointed to lose the chance to do it with my best friend, Parker, who was accepted on the program as well," Distelrath said in an email. "We had been planning to go together for a little over a year when we got the news.”

His friend, English and economics sophomore Parker Renberg, reiterated the same sentiment and also said he might not be able to study abroad in the future. 

“I haven’t ruled out studying abroad in the future, but I think it’s unlikely at this point," Renberg said in an email. "My friend and I won’t have schedules that line up next summer and I’m not sure if I’ll still be eligible for some of the scholarships I had applied for.”

Packaging sophomore Marissa Murphy, who was supposed to go to London this summer, said she was heartbroken to miss out on this educational opportunity.

“I was looking forward to getting to experience a new culture," Murphy said in an email. "I was also looking forward to learning how the packaging industry operates in a different country and getting to tour plants and just exploring in general."

However, Murphy said she plans to participate in the same program next summer.

For business sophomore Olivia Andre, attending the Business Law, Ethics and Sustainability in an Emerging Global Marketplace education abroad program would have been her first time out of the U.S.

“I was looking forward to not only being in Greece and experiencing everything it had to offer, but also being out of the country for the first time," Olivia Andre said in an email.

Benner said the university is working on moving spring study abroad coursework to MSU colleges, as well as issuing refunds to students whose programs were cut short. Students who had yet to leave for their programs already received refunds for their application fees and confirmation deposits.

"For spring semester students who were abroad when the suspension was announced, we are working on getting approval for a refund package,” Brenner said. “Currently, the Office for Education Abroad only has authorization to reimburse for additional incurred airfare costs. Information will be communicated directly to impacted students as soon as possible."

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Students who are signed up for fall study abroad programs are being instructed to be as flexible as possible and to have a back-up plan just in case, she said.

“As of right now, all fall semester 2020 education abroad programs are proceeding as planned,” Benner said. “There is a possibility that they may be suspended but that will be determined by the provost in consultation with RSAC which continues to monitor the situation.”


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