VCU offers virtual opportunities amid canceled study abroad trips

Illustration by Andy Caress

Katharine DeRosa, Staff Writer

Senior Mika Hayashi has been planning her study abroad trip since her freshman year, getting all of her required coursework out of the way so she could spend her senior year in Japan. 

Now, following VCU’s cancellation of spring study abroad programs, Hayashi said she is disappointed.

“I understand there’s nothing really I can do,” the biology major said.

The Global Education Office announced on Sept. 23 that VCU plans to cancel study abroad trips through May 2021. The cancellation includes spring semester and spring break trips. At the time of the cancellation, the office said 10 students had concrete study abroad plans.

Kansai Gaidai University, the school in Japan that Hayashi was planning on attending in person, is offering her two virtual classes at no charge based on speaking and writing. The courses will apply as transfer credits. 

Hayashi said her speech class has only three students. Both classmates are from American universities, while Hayashi’s other class has students from around the world.

“It’s as good as it can get, but obviously I’m disappointed,” Hayashi said.

VCU’s cancellation of study abroad programs stems from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidelines for higher learning institutions that encourage colleges and universities to consider postponing or canceling upcoming trips due to COVID-19.

In March, the university suspended travel to countries with advisories from the U.S. Department of State related to COVID-19. The measure forced some students to find a way home or remain abroad. VCU suspended winter break 2021 study abroad programs in July due to travel advisories and CDC guidelines.

“I want VCU students to have these opportunities, and I look forward to the day we resume study abroad.” –– Stephanie Tignor, director of education abroad

Virtual international opportunities are available for students in the meantime, including remote internships and classes. Director of Education Abroad Stephanie Tignor said students may connect virtually with international students through online programming. 

VCU reimbursed study abroad students who returned early during the spring semester. Tignor said the university would work with students who had made financial commitments to travel.

Students are encouraged to continue planning study abroad trips, Tignor said, despite uncertainty surrounding the program’s future. However, Tignor said students should not make financial commitments to travel plans at the moment. 

Graduating seniors may consider opportunities beyond undergraduate travel, Tignor said, such as joining the Peace Corps, participating in a graduate study abroad program or going to graduate school abroad. 

“I really feel for those students, since that is a really tough situation to be in,” Tignor said. 

Tignor said students may contact the National Scholarship Office for study abroad resources. She said students are encouraged to apply for the nationally competitive Fulbright Scholarship, which funds international study. 

Though the decision to cancel study abroad trips is disappointing to many students and advisors, Tignor said she understands the decision is based on the safety and wellbeing of students at VCU and abroad.

“I am the last person who doesn’t want to see VCU students going abroad,” Tignor said. “I want VCU students to have these opportunities, and I look forward to the day we resume study abroad.”

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