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Faculty evaluate the possibility of Summer 2021 study abroad programs

BIS 342 students pose with the CMU flag in Scotland. Photo provided by Dr. Deborah Gray.

During the summer semester, many Central Michigan University faculty members lead study abroad trips for specific majors.

Due to high numbers of COVID-19 cases worldwide, many international travel restrictions are in place causing all study abroad programs for the spring semester to be canceled.

With the spring study abroad trips of 2021 cancelled, many students and faculty members are left wondering if summer study abroad trips will even be an option. 

Deborah Gray, marketing and hospitality services administration faculty member leads a study abroad trip to Scotland that focuses on the Scottish way of life through immersion in the culture. Students stay in apartments in the city of St. Andrews and experience things like public transportation, foreign grocery shopping and trips to local museums. 

“CMU and our study abroad office are saying that if we’re in the same position that we’re in right now, but allowed to go into (other countries), they want students social distanced," Gray said. "For my class specifically, I can’t teach the class under those guidelines. It just wouldn’t be economically feasible."

What Gray is referring to is the difference between hotels and hostels. Many study abroad programs use the dorm-style sleeping arrangements of hostels to keep costs low for students. However, if there was a requirement of two students per room, the program would be forced to use hotel rooms instead. With the change to hotels instead of hostels, the trip would cost over $3,000 more for students, according to Gray.

“If there’s any more quarantine procedures, then my class can’t go in 2021," Gray said..   

The question remains of what kind of new normal students will be greeted with. Some cultures in other countries have undergone major shifts in order to protect their citizens, like in the case of Italy’s country-wide quarantine at the beginning of the pandemic. 

Gray has her own way of looking at the problem as she sets out to lead her program. 

"We hear a lot of experts say, ‘this is the new normal’, if you’re of that mindset then there’s never going to be a different experience then the one we have going forward," Gray said. "It’s just a different way of life, and I’m sure that does not diminish the study abroad experience, I think it really makes you more comfortable with the ambiguity of the world."

The Office of Study Abroad will make the final decision about summer programs by Feb. 1, 2021.  

Even with the many roadblocks involved with attempting to social distance and travel, students continue to show increased interest in going abroad. 

“CMU students are eager to study abroad as soon as they may do so," said Dianne DeSalvo, director of study abroad. "We continue to meet with students to discuss study abroad in 2021 and later."

DeSalvo said that they are ready to resume study abroad as soon as it is safe. 

Student participation in study abroad is indicative that students are ready to travel as soon as CMU and the Office of Study Abroad deems trips safe according to CDC guidelines. 

Professors who are leading programs are also excited and hopeful about the future of study abroad as they prepare and plan for students to leave for summer trips, even if the future is uncertain. 

“I have no idea if this is going to be a go or not on Feb. 1, (but) I do know this, if we’re in the same position as we are right now it will not be a go," Gray said. "However, I don’t care what the percentage is, I’ll put the time in and organize it and if it’s not a go, that’s ok with me."

Gray said that since she believes in her course and that students benefit from it, she is going to plan it just in case it can happen. 

"I encourage students to study abroad, there’s so many opportunities, stay at hostels, take a friend," Gray said. "Going abroad is a game changer and a life changer.”