DePauw canceled all abroad Winter Terms for the 2021-2022 school year, and the institution is continuing to cancel May terms for the spring of 2022. Across the United States, there has been a 53% decrease in students studying abroad since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite many extended studies trips being canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions, DePauw continues to promote immersive study abroad, service and research trips to students interested in the school.
Nationwide in the 2018-2019 school year, 347,099 students studied abroad. In the 2019-2020 school year, however, that number decreased to 162,633. Many students had to leave their programs midway because the CDC announced that borders would begin to close on March 11th, 2020.
With the immersion of the new Omicron variant, this trend could continue into next year.
Mandy Brookins, associate dean of experiential learning and director of off-campus programs, said that the semester option for study abroad is the safest bet for students wanting to travel.
“For short term programs, it’s a whole different calculus, because you're traveling with a cohort of students. It’s typically a much smaller group of people that are congregating in smaller spaces, and you're all living and eating and working together. One student or one faculty member coming down with COVID-19 could disrupt the entire academic endeavor. If you arrive and then you have to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival, and someone tests positive, that's the entire two weeks of the experience,” Brookins said.
The university canceled the majority of winter terms abroad early in the fall semester.
“Health and safety is the number one concern, and then also our impact on any host communities. So, we may have had a great deal of access to vaccines, and all of our students, faculty, and staff traveling would have been vaccinated, but we would be going into some communities that have lower rates of vaccination, lower access to resources, so we didn’t want to have a negative impact on those communities,” Brookins said.
She said that DePauw examined about 13 other institutions, including Ohio Wesleyan, Allegheny, and Indiana University. Most of their programs are having the same difficulties as DePauw, especially with short term excursions. In regards to students contemplating study abroad in the future, she said that the most secure way is to go for an entire semester.
“We have a number of students who are on semester programs right now, and I have had a few cases of COVID-19 on those programs. But, it didn’t disrupt the academic endeavor because the students could pivot to online learning if they needed to, the programs already had infrastructure in place to do online learning if necessary. Nobody got seriously ill, and we also have a great deal of insurance to help cover costs for illness,” Brookins said.
DePauw is hopeful that at least three of the May terms in the spring of 2022 will be able to operate, but that the health and safety of the students and host communities must come first, Brookins said.
Students who studied abroad felt that it improved their education.
Grace Todd, a senior who studied abroad in China in 2020 right before COVID-19 originally hit, said that “being able to experience the Great Wall and the Terracotta Soldiers in person was beautiful. It honestly was very grounding and humbling, but it made me realize how the world is such a big place and that not everything is done the way that we do it here.”
Todd said that she wanted to expand her knowledge because she had never had the opportunity to leave the country in her adult life. She wanted to get out of her comfort zone and delve into another culture, where she had to use her other senses to communicate in a language that she was not familiar with, and she was looking forward to gaining more insight through future study abroad programs.
“I tried to go to Japan in January of 2021, then the summer of 2021, and I was scheduled to go on the Japan 2022 winter term trip, but all of them were canceled. I even took two semesters of Japanese in order to go. I was devastated because I had been learning so much about the culture after having such a positive experience in China,” Todd said.
Todd said that she understood why the trips were canceled, and she believes that it's a good thing that DePauw and other partnering schools in different countries made the best decision to keep the students safe even though she was disappointed.
Despite the cancellation of almost every trip over the past two years, DePauw is continuing to advertise to incoming first year students that over 90% of students go abroad within their time at the institution on the Hubbard Center website.
“I do not think it is correct to advertise for this year and past years that 90% of students study abroad. I think it is alright to say that in the past and up until COVID-19, there was 90% of the student body traveling. These trips have been canceled for the past two years, and if they aren’t going to happen next year, it's false advertising to say that students are traveling,” Todd said.
Honor Pickus, a senior who was supposed to travel to Japan during winter term and Morocco over May term, was saddened by the news that both of her trips were canceled.
“I was very disappointed when the trips got canceled, specifically because there were students who got to go first semester this year (fall 2021). I thought that May terms and winter terms would be able to happen after being canceled for so long,” Pickus said.
Pickus spent both semesters of her junior year in Switzerland.
“It opened my eyes to how the rest of the world works and functions. I’m now able to compare how different systems work abroad as opposed to the United States. Getting to study different cultures and societal norms is also very eye-opening, and that type of world building can only be done by going abroad,” she said.
Pickus also feels as though DePauw’s advertisement online is spreading misinformation to people who want to attend an institution where they are able to study outside of the country.
“I think that is very misleading, because that is something that is very important to someone selecting a school. If they see that DePauw offers this, when in reality all of the trips are being canceled, it's very problematic,” she said.
“Overall, my experience abroad was life changing, and it’s something that can not be put into words. We may learn about other cultures in class, but the only way to fully immerse yourself into something different is to travel to other countries first hand. If DePauw continues to cancel trips next year, students may never have this opportunity again,” Pickus said.