Fall study abroad programs and the 2020-2021 Novogratz Bridge Year Program have been cancelled due to uncertainties surrounding COVID-19.
The Office of International Programs (OIP), the University Global Safety and Security Unit, and off-campus partners came to the decision based on the “health and safety concerns, evolving travel restrictions, and a lack of clarity surrounding logistical, immigration, and security matters,” according to an OIP statement on June 1.
The suspension of study abroad applies both to in-person programs and those that have already made the switch to full or partial online instruction. However, OIP aims to resume some study abroad programs in the spring of 2021, according to an email from Program Director Gisella Gisolo to study abroad applicants.
Juan José López Haddad ’22 intended to study abroad in the fall at the University of Cambridge, which plans to hold online lectures, but will allow in-person seminars, practices, and supervisions — small group tutorials — in the coming term.
“While I acknowledge the issues study abroad might pose during this time, I feel like taking overarching decisions like this should be done on a case by case basis,“ Haddad said. “Princeton should trust in the decisions other institutions make, especially those of the caliber of Cambridge.”
Lopez Haddad is an opinion columnist for The Daily Princetonian.
Novogratz Bridge Year Director John Luria, Assistant Director Matt Lynn, and Administrative Coordinator Barbara MacFarland notified program applicants of the program’s suspension in an email.
“Our top priority is our commitment to ensuring the health and well-being of our participants, on-site staff, and members of our host communities,” they wrote. “Looking at the facts before us, we ultimately concluded that we could not responsibly deliver on our promise to provide a healthy, safe, and immersive global service-learning experience to incoming Princeton students this year.”
The Novogratz Bridge Year Program is the University’s nine-month, fully-funded service-oriented gap year program. Partnering with the education nonprofit Where There Be Dragons, it sends groups of eight incoming students each to one of five countries involved in the program: Bolivia, China, India, Indonesia, and Senegal.
In April, the Novogratz Bridge Year program informed prospective applicants of expected delays to the program’s start in order to allow for more time to complete visa applications, health assessments, and immunizations.
The decision to suspend programming was based on the unique characteristics of international programs; President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 still plans to announce his decision regarding online versus residential instruction for the Fall 2020 semester in early July, according to Deputy Spokesperson Mike Hotchkiss. In a typical year, the Novogratz Bridge Year orientation would take place in August.
Program applicants were encouraged to continue with matriculation into the Class of 2024. Students who wish to defer application have until June 15th to submit a formal request.
“I am definitely disappointed they decided to cancel the program completely, although I understand international travel will likely continue to be unsafe for a significant period of time,” Bridge Year Applicant Yvette Olivas Biddle said. “Canceling the program entirely seemed sudden because they had mostly been warning us there might be a delay in the start date, and I would have felt better if they had been more clear about all the alternatives they considered.”
Biddle expressed a desire for a domestic alternative program where students could volunteer for food banks in underserved communities or tutor students struggling with online schooling.
In an email sent to Bridge Year alumni addressing the protests which have erupted nationwide since the killing of George Floyd, Luria, Lynn, and MacFarland also described planned initiatives and changes to the program in the coming year.
“While [the cancellation] is incredibly unfortunate for our incoming students, the suspension will allow us time and energy to focus on and commit to tangible actions that will increase equity and inclusion on Bridge Year,” they wrote. “In the coming months we will be working on other initiatives related to on-program support, marketing, social media, and other areas that affect the student experience.”
In the 2020-2021 year, the Bridge Year program will implement a number of changes around recruitment, selection, and pre-departure process, including engaging alums of the program with marginalized identities to speak with applicants, selecting students with a certain level of competency regarding diversity, and holding meetings for members of different affinity groups.