In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and in accordance with CDC and University System of Georgia guidelines, the University of North Georgia will not be sending any students abroad this fall, according to associate vice president for international programs Sheila Schulte. Brenau director of international initiatives Jordan Anderson said that while Brenau has yet to make an official statement on fall study abroad programs, she “(doesn’t) think we are going to have any students studying abroad” this fall. She added that faculty previously planning on traveling to teach at Brenau’s partner school in China will not be making the trip.
“All indicators are saying that it’s not the best time for students to be abroad,” Schulte said. “We’re always assessing risk, because we want our students to be safe.”
At present, both universities seem to be in agreement that it is not safe for students to be traveling internationally. The future is a bit more up in the air.
Anderson said Brenau typically sends significantly more students abroad in the spring and summer semesters than the fall, so she has been more focused on developing a positive online experience for international students who will not be able to return to the country before the start of the fall semester.
“We haven’t really had the chance yet to talk about any future study abroad programs,” she said.
Fall study abroad trips are much more common at UNG, and Schulte said the school’s programs were turning to a variety of solutions to accommodate the students who had planned to study internationally in the coming semester.
Some are simply shifting their trips to the spring or summer of 2021 and hoping international travel is possible then. Others have turned to online experiences.
Schulte said some UNG students were already engaging in online classes provided by universities in Japan and New Zealand prior to the global outbreak of COVID-19. She believes the pandemic may increase the availability of online study abroad experiences going forward, even when international travel is no longer an issue.
Chi-Hsuan Catterson, academic director of UNG’s Chinese Language Flagship program, said one of her students is currently enrolled in a Chinese language program at a university in Taiwan. The program — which recently received a $1.2 million grant to continue at UNG — typically includes four years of Chinese language study locally followed by a capstone year of more immersive studies in either China or Taiwan.
To help simulate the experience, Catterson said her student has been given regular opportunities to have one-on-one conversations with tutors or teacher’s assistants to help practice their language skills. The student has also been taken on virtual tours of places around Taiwan to pick up some of the cultural experiences that typically come with international study.
“You could feel like you’re actually in that environment,” Catterson said. “Of course, there’s no comparison for actually being there, but they are doing their best to bring that experience to them.”
Although safety concerns are currently making international study a challenge for local universities, Anderson, Catterson and Schulte were all in agreement that study abroad programs provide students with unique and immersive experiences that cannot truly be replicated while staying in the states.
Schulte said she is keeping a close eye on CDC and USG guidelines so students interested in studying abroad can get back to traveling internationally as soon as possible.
“We always encourage study abroad,” she said. “It’s a high-impact practice. They’re experiencing another culture, sometimes another language. They’re certainly usually experiencing a new educational system. That builds adaptability, creativity. It helps them with their problem-solving skills. It’s certainly something that we think is important. But it is also something where one needs to be thoughtful about the risks that one takes in order to build those skills.
“We want to be able to offer opportunities when it’s safe to do so.”