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U. suspends study abroad for spring 2021

<h5>The Louis A. Simpson Building, which houses the Davis International Center.</h5>
<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
The Louis A. Simpson Building, which houses the Davis International Center.
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

The Office of International Programs (OIP) has “made the difficult decision to suspend undergraduate participation in semester study abroad programs for spring 2021,” according to an email from Study Abroad Program Director Gisella Gisolo to program applicants on Thursday. 

The suspension applies to all non-University programs expected to be held in person, as well as those that have already moved to full or partially online instruction.

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According to the message, OIP made the decision in collaboration with the University’s Global Safety and Security Unit based on “health and safety concerns” and “highly variable logistical and security matters,” among other considerations.

University Spokesperson Ben Chang told The Daily Princetonian that these logistical and security factors — which are “evolving almost daily” — include but are not limited to the pandemic’s unpredictability abroad, the success of localized public policy efforts globally, national travel regulations, travel advisories, and “the many unknowns regarding in-person academic instruction at institutions abroad.”

OIP also cited the University’s current policy on undergraduate travel, which grants minimal exceptions for University-sponsored international travel for undergraduates. This policy will be reviewed “prior to the beginning of each academic term throughout the pandemic period” according to the OIP website, but Chang clarified that until any changes from this review are announced, “the current guidelines remain in force.”

Julia Chaffers ’22, an opinion columnist for the ‘Prince’ who planned to study at the University of Oxford this spring, said she was disappointed but not surprised.

“I was holding out hope over the summer that things would get better, but it became more and more clear that cancellation was inevitable,” Chaffers said. “Still, I’m disappointed that I’ll be missing out on an opportunity to learn from a new perspective.”

Allie Mangel ’22, a ‘Prince’ copy editor who also planned to study at Oxford, expressed a similar sentiment.

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“I kind of knew it was going to happen,” she said, referencing an early-September email from Gisolo instructing students to have a backup plan for the spring. “I still wanted to be optimistic about it, so I’m still a little bit disappointed.”

Mangel also said she had been in contact with her program’s director at Oxford’s Worcester College, who told her that the college was already partially reopened in the fall and was prepared to host the program in the spring.

“That can be frustrating, too, because the receiving end is all prepped and ready to go, and it’s the Princeton side of things where it gets shut down,” Mangel said. “I think people have had similar experiences where the country they were going to go to was safer than the United States and already had plans in place to tackle coronavirus concerns.”

Juan José López Haddad ’22, another opinion columnist for the ‘Prince,’ criticized the University’s one-size-fits-all approach when the decision was made to cancel abroad trips scheduled for this semester — including his anticipated semester at Cambridge University. He said he still thinks decisions should have been made on a “more case-by-case basis.”

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Haddad added that he understood the logistical benefits of an all-encompassing approach for both students and the University, but still felt there should be room for reevaluation.

“Oxford I understand. It’s in the United Kingdom. It’s going through a spike,” Haddad added. “But there are countries that are very safe right now — South Korea for example — and they also offer study abroad opportunities.”

Given the uncertainty surrounding travel and the pandemic, however, Chang noted, “the team in OIP wanted to be sure that every student had had enough notice of the cancellation to make informed decisions about the spring without waiting for a last minute decision by the University.”

He added that the decision to cancel all programs also considered potential financial losses for students, “such as required deposits for housing and tuition, flight booking, visa expenses, and so on,” in addition to “the lengthy approval process for a semester study abroad application.”

“We understand the widespread disappointment of students who were hoping to participate in study abroad programs, and also hope everyone understands this difficult decision was made with the fundamental goal of protecting the health and safety of students and minimizing as much as possible disruptions that could result from the still very uncertain international travel environment given the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic,” Chang said.

OIP hopes some programs will return next fall.

“Our office will continue to closely monitor the international landscape and hope conditions will be such that some of our semester study abroad programs may resume in the 2021–22 academic year,”  Gisolo wrote to students.

The University has yet to give a concrete timeline for releasing spring planning decisions, which Provost Deborah Prentice previously said may not be announced until December.

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