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Changes to fall study abroad programs due to COVID-19

Posted at 6:59 PM, Jul 01, 2020

BROWN CO., Wis. (NBC 26) -- As coronavirus continues to impact Wisconsin, some colleges and universities are making changes to their study abroad programs for the Fall 2020 semester.

UW-Green Bay has suspended study abroad programs for the fall. Brent Blahnik, the director of International Education at UWGB, said prior to the pandemic, they were setting enrollment records in education abroad. He said they are constantly assessing the situation and trying to make decisions at the right time. They made decisions based on programs and how much time was needed for students to secure visas, make travel plans, and enroll in courses. He said they tried to wait to make decisions as late as possible, but with safety concerns, it just was not feasible to go.

"It's difficult. It absolutely is," said Blahnik. "Many students that I've talked to planned their entire undergraduate careers to study abroad, and they're maybe in their final year and now they can't participate in that and it's certainly a challenge and difficult."

St. Norbert College has suspended four out of `17 study abroad programs, according to Gail Gilbert the director of study abroad and off-campus programs at the college. She said because COVID-19 has impacted countries differently, St. Norbert College has a policy of reviewing programs on a case by case basis. She said they're making decisions on each program 60 days prior to the program start date. The 60 day period for a majority of programs is in mid-July. Gilbert said typically they would send 70 to 80 students abroad in the fall. Right now, she said there's about 24 students still interested in going in the fall.

"Overall, we've been pretty cautious in our decision making, but also understanding that where we are at as a county, the U.S. is currently one of the most impacted countries by COVID, and so for us, the restrictions that are in place and the way that we are able to resume study abroad programs will be if we're able to lower our risks and our rates here in the U.S. So it really is dependent on what that looks like in the future and how soon we're able to really get this under control," said Gilbert

Both UWGB and St. Norbert College said they're hoping to still be able to offer students international experiences. Blahnik said some of the students who were supposed to go abroad have been moved into a new virtual international internship. He said the students are able to work with companies in London, Liverpool, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Sydney, Dublin, and Barcelona. He said students have been participating in this during the summer and have had good experiences with it. It's something he said he believes will continue even when students are able to study abroad again.

Gilbert said at St. Norbert College, they're working with some partner institutions abroad to offer virtual exchange programs which could allow students to be in an international classroom, even if they're in De Pere to have interactions with international faculty and students.

As for the status of future study abroad programs, UWGB said programs will likely return in phases with some places allowing travel before others. The Office of International Education is working with the International Travel Safety Committee, overseas partners, and using CDC and State Department guidance to continue evaluating and making decisions on when programming will resume.

Gilbert said along with the Fall semester, January is also a big time to send student abroad for J-Term programs. She said they're hoping to be able to do that. A decision is expected to be made later this year.