Drexel’s Study Abroad Office announced on Dec. 9 that it will waive the application fees for its Summer 2021 and Fall 2021 programs. The hope is that, by the time those programs arrive, students will be able again to travel abroad (and to campus, in the case of exchange students) safely for hybrid or fully in-person instruction, Lauren Steinberg, the assistant director of Drexel’s Office of Global Engagement, said.
As Drexel students begin a new winter term, it is difficult to forget how last year’s term ended in chaos. A pandemic had just been declared by the WHO, Finals Week was moved online, students living in campus housing were evicted, co-ops went virtual and study abroad programs — ones that students had planned months or years in advance — were canceled.
Program cancellations began when the Office of the Provost announced the University was restricting travel to China from Jan, 30, 2020, due to the pandemic. This was followed by South Korea on Feb. 28, then Italy the next day, and, finally, President Fry sent an email on March 20 announcing all study abroad programs were canceled — and they have remained so until this winter term.
The Study Abroad office had worked to schedule the return of students who were abroad when their programs were canceled, manage the transition of exchange students still in Philadelphia, and announce the gradual cancellation of future study abroad programs (like Intensive Course Abroad and Exchange Programs) as the pandemic continued and education remained remote.
Steinberg said that, as soon as President Fry’s announcement was made, the first Study Abroad program canceled was the ICA over spring break, one of the most popular breaks to do this week-intensive program. Then, study abroad were canceled for the spring term. However, less students were affected during spring term, since Drexel’s quarter program does not adapt well in the spring with most allied universities that work by semester, Steinberg said.
Students who were already abroad in a semester system school when the COVID announcements were made faced a similar situation. Many of them were asked to return to the U.S., and some were able to finish their programs remotely, Steinberg said. However, some students in countries that were handling the virus well, like Singapore, decided not to leave and remained abroad until their program ended.
Due to the travel bans (included those preventing travel from the U.S. to European countries in the Schengen territory, China and Iran), some international students struggled to return to the U.S. These students were forced to remain in their study abroad countries through the pandemic or return to their home countries, Steinberg said.
There were also exchange students from other countries who were studying abroad here at Drexel. These students had the option to study for any of Drexel’s quarter terms except summer, Steinberg said. They were also affected by the pandemic measures.
“Anyone whose program ended in the winter term just went home immediately, but anyone who was supposed to come here for the spring who wasn’t already in the country was given the option of just dropping out of the program or doing Drexel classes online,” Steinberg said. “Some of them had already arrived in Philly and had to stay. We had a group of […] four or five students from Italy, who escaped COVID from there to later find it here, but they did not get the full exchange experience that they were originally hoping for, as happened with many in study abroad programs.”
All students who were already here in the U.S. were given the opportunity to stay. If they had not yet arrived, they were not able to come.
Iulia-Elena Cazan is a political science major and pre-junior at Drexel who had known she wanted to study abroad since her sophomore year. She found out about the exchange program with Sciences Po in France, and she wanted to study on their Paris campus. She had already reached the necessary level of French to apply to the program and met with her co-op advisor several times to prepare for the program.
After working hard on her applications, Cazan was accepted to the Fall 2020 exchange program to Sciences Po Paris by Drexel. She was eager to tell her friends in Romania, because some of them were also planning to be in Paris at that time.
“I am a person who likes to have a plan and know when I will do things, and if I don’t, that triggers me. That’s why I began telling my friends and having a plan, but I got scared when the virus began being so big,” Cazan said.
Cazan was uncertain about how her study abroad programs were going to turn out, but she had hope that they could be done. She was really impacted when she found out that her study abroad plans were canceled.
“I was very sad for a week about that. Not seeing it right now changes my course plans,” Cazan said.
Sciences Po is a world-renowned university in political sciences, and Cazan was expecting to fulfill some of her major requirements there. However, since she has attended another year of classes at Drexel, she will probably have to fill electives with the courses she wanted to take at Sciences Po. This will decrease Cazan’s chances of getting a minor she had originally planned for.
Kristi Diehl is a pre-junior with a double major in global studies and economics, with a concentration in business economics and development. She had planned to spend her summer term studying abroad in the Madrid-London dual city program, and then spend her fall term in an exchange program in Prague.
Diehl had even changed her co-op cycle from Fall-Winter to Spring-Summer in order to complete this program. However, after the pandemic began, all courses became remote and her study abroad programs were canceled. Instead of spending over six months in Europe, she has spent four terms of her studies at home doing online classes.
“I cannot complain too much. At least I’ve gotten the chance to be home and connect with my family,” Diehl said.
All Drexel students whose study abroad programs were canceled — from spring break of 2020 to this day — were given the highest possible refund the Study Abroad office could, Steinberg said. The office refunded all program fees to students and tried to help with extra costs, but airfare and other costs were limited for them to refund.
Additionally, some students were able to defer or transfer their scheduled study abroad, depending on the program. However, for the upcoming open terms, some allied universities to the Study Abroad office are offering a smaller number of slots for exchange than previous years. This makes it hard to guarantee a transfer to the program that some students had been scheduled to complete. However, excluded students are guaranteed the opportunity to transfer their application and complete any other study abroad program the office offers.
Nonetheless, this poses the question: “Since the people who couldn’t do their study abroad programs last year are going to complete them next year, won’t there be fewer study abroad opportunities for people who are applying now?”
“No, because the programs were canceled everywhere. The way exchange programs work is that we received students from [the school abroad] and those students study here. Then, we send students to those schools,” Steinberg explained. “So, since that froze for a year and no one sent anyone, those schools are also looking to send us more people as well.” As a result, the office is not expecting fewer study abroad opportunities, but instead a doubled number.
Steinberg and the Study Abroad team do not know how things will look this year, but they are very hopeful for at least a limited return to activities.
“I would not be surprised if students may have to quarantine upon arrival, if they may have to wear masks in public places, if courses may be offered in a hybrid setting, or if start dates might be pushed back. Additionally, there may be certain countries that we can send students to and certain ones that we can’t depending on regulations for U.S. citizens or regulation of students who were in the U.S.,” Steinberg said.
However, the office is even more optimistic about fall term, because those programs are, for the most part, with partner universities that want to send their students to Drexel as well.
“That’s why we did the app fee waiver, because we want students to be able to apply risk-free. I know that’s the difference between applying this year and applying last year,” Steinberg said. “You’re applying knowing that COVID is here and that we’re trying to navigate around it, as opposed to being surprised by it.”