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Varun Agarwal planned to study and intern abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark this spring. Agarwal, a junior in the College of Engineering, was excited to pursue an innovation and entrepreneurship program and explore a new city with other students, but for him and hundreds of other students at the University of Michigan, these hopes were cut short Monday morning.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which sent U-M students studying abroad in the winter 2020 semester home from locations around the world, continues to run rampant throughout the U.S., canceling or postponing nearly all events on campus. The latest in these cancellations are the study abroad programs for undergraduate students through the University’s Center for Global and Intercultural Study. The center confirmed it is suspending all winter 2021 study abroad programs Monday afternoon.
Agarwal said he was disappointed about the loss of the opportunity to study abroad.
“It also would have given me a chance to explore people of vastly different cultures and get out of my comfort zone,” Agarwal said. “I’m used to traveling with family or friends so it would have been a culture shock, hopefully in a good way, to go to a different country on my own.”
Rachel Reuter, senior international health and safety adviser, told students in an email Monday morning that study abroad programs for winter semester would be canceled citing the COVID-19 pandemic and its risks.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have enough evidence to suggest that the public health situation around the world, including here in the US, will have stabilized enough for us to confidently offer our winter programs,” Reuter wrote.
In the email, Reuter explained that the decision was made in collaboration with other University officials.
“We are making this decision now, with the support of LSA leadership and in concert with other UM schools and colleges in order to give you sufficient time to make alternative plans for winter term,” Reuter wrote.
Amy Conger, associate vice provost and director of global engagement, wrote in a press release Monday that student safety is their top priority.
“We’re trying to make careful decisions that are in everybody’s best interest,” Conger said. “Because there’s still uncertainty, we just don’t want to put the students at risk.”
According to the release, the University does not have a clearcut plan for reinstating study abroad at this time. Conger emphasized the “hopeful” approach to programs for the winter 2021 semester but said there was too much uncertainty.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a clear timeline,” the release read. “We can’t accurately predict what the COVID-19 conditions will look like in countries throughout the world.”
LSA junior Evan Glatt also had plans to study abroad next semester. Glatt intended to travel to Madrid, Spain this winter, and said he was hopeful the program would continue as planned.
“I have always planned to study abroad, and I’ve based my classes and living situation around that goal,” Glatt said. “I knew that study abroad wasn’t set in stone because of the pandemic, but I really was holding onto hope that it would work out.”
Glatt said while the cancellation was not likely to impact his academic progress, he is disappointed about losing the chance to improve his Spanish language skills.
“I’m pretty sure that I am still on track to graduate on the timeline I originally planned out,” Glatt said. “I was excited to live in Madrid and enhance my Spanish but hopefully I can do that at another point in my life.”
Public Policy junior Emma Wong planned to study abroad in London, England and said the cancellation is disappointing, but not shocking.
“It wasn’t looking that promising even a few months ago, so it was not that surprising to be honest,” Wong said. “I think it makes sense in the grand scheme of things, it’s not all that surprising.”
Wong echoed Glatt, emphasizing that the changes likely would not impact her degree progress, but that the situation was disappointing overall.
“It’s not gonna affect my course of study or my curriculum too much,” Wong said. “It still is definitely disappointing for me.”
Daily Staff Reporter Sarah Payne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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