Multimedia Stories

by GVSU Multimedia Journalism Students

COVID-19 grounds study abroad programs

by Molly Wagner

Two weeks before leaving for a semester abroad in Chile, Grand Valley State University sophomore Kate Horling received a message that would alter the rest of her college career.

Kate Horling's Study Abroad Testimony.mp3

Kate Horling reacts to the news.

After a year of preparation, Horling’s study abroad program was canceled on March 10. She had the opportunity to take those classes remotely through GVSU, but she says that as a Secondary Spanish Education major, she is required to study abroad before graduation. Horling hopes to attend the same program in Chile next winter.

Horling’s experience is a reality for many students around the world as the spread of COVID-19 caused universities to cancel study abroad programs.

As the CDC and the US State Department began assigning level three and level four travel advisories to China, South Korea, and Italy, universities across the United States began pulling study abroad programs in those countries.

Not Safe to Travel - CDC

COVID-19 has now been detected in at least 177 countries. The Center for Disease Control advises against all nonessential global travel. The CDC has restricted entry into the US by foreign nationals who have visited Iran, China, most European countries, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

GVSU Cancels Study Abroad

According to GVSU Director of Study Abroad Rebecca Hambleton, Grand Valley’s first program suspension occurred in January for students studying in China. By February 28, all students in South Korea and Italy were told to return home. On March 12, the Padnos International Center told students in Europe to return home. All GVSU students worldwide were asked to return to the US on March 14.

“Italy in particular is one of the top five study abroad destinations for GVSU students,” said study abroad advisor Meaghann Myers-Smith. “There were less than ten GVSU students in Italy when the programs were suspended.”

Lillian Baker was one of those students.

Baker, a Hospitality and Tourism Management major, was studying at John Cabot University in Rome, a GVSU partner university.

She had been there for seven weeks when the Padnos International Center emailed her, telling her that she needed to return home.

Lillian Baker - GVSU Study Abroad Student

“I got the initial email from PIC on February 28th, and I flew home the next Wednesday, March 4th..."

-Lillian Baker

Baker, like many students who had to leave their programs early, is taking her classes remotely through her host university. She said that since John Cabot has many international students, the professors are more flexible with remote learning.

Courtesy: Lillian Baker

Lillian stands on Monte Mario three days before she flew home.

“By the end of February, we suspended all faculty-led programs that departed before June 15,” said Myers-Smith. “The spring/summer semester is when most students go abroad, and GVSU sends about 400 students abroad during this time. There was really no choice.”

Many international students studying in the United States were evacuated by their home countries as COVID-19 reached the US in mid-March. Ukrainian student Arthur Koldomasov had been at Grand Valley since Jan. 3 and originally planned to return to Ukraine on April 25.

“The Ukrainian government initiated the evacuation process for its students studying abroad, I returned to Ukraine on March 29.”

Arthur Koldomasov

International student at GVSU

According to Myers-Smith, some study abroad providers refused to cancel their programs until far after the universities formally told students to stay in the states. This caused conflicted feelings for students whose provider told them that their program was still happening despite their universities advising them to remain home.