VCU’s cancellation of study abroad programs is another win for COVID-19

Illustration by Lauren Johnson

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

Upon coming to college, one of the experiences I was most excited for was studying abroad. During months and months of being locked in my home, I had endless time to plan my spring 2021 trip to the United Kingdom. 

Between applying for scholarships and finding a place to stay for the semester, the possibility of a cancellation was not a possibility in my mind — until last week.

On Sept. 23, VCU sent an email to study abroad applicants stating all abroad programs were canceled through May 2021 due to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. While it comes as no surprise, the disappointment is still very present.

As the pandemic continues to halt normal life, the idea of traveling is beginning to feel like a distant dream. That being said, with yet another letdown due to COVID-19, not taking the virus seriously is becoming a testament to some people’s intelligence.

With remote learning, many students still find themselves entertaining social gatherings and walking around campus without a mask. People nationwide have neglected safety guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a shocking turn of events, I actually agree with VCU’s decision. In light of the CDC’s suggestion to postpone abroad trips, the university has come to a sound conclusion. 

Traveling during this time is challenging enough. With multiple travel restrictions — many exclusive to American tourists — and a lack of accessibility to health care, it is inevitably anxiety-inducing.

Because of those restrictions, traveling abroad as a student is even more stressful. Obtaining visas and entry into countries would be a hassle. If you thought the Transportation Security Administration’s airport lines were crazy pre-pandemic, I can only imagine the length of them now.

Many of us tend to forget that while we’re abroad, our healthcare won’t travel with us. Some insurance companies may offer to pay minimal international hospital fees, but it is rare that they will cover all your expenses and emergency evacuation back to the U.S. In an age where healthcare is so vital, lack of availability to it would prove to be extremely dangerous. 

I’ve always joked that if I went to the U.K. and truly enjoyed my time, I would probably never return. Now, returning home may be difficult due to constantly changing travel restrictions. Students who were abroad last spring found themselves scrambling to make it home before countries closed their borders and enacted stay-at-home orders. 

I’d rather return home on my own volition, not because I’m stuck.

The cultural immersion that comes with living abroad is undeniable, and I was excited to experience that. 

During the planning for my trip, I was paired with an advisor who offered support over Zoom calls. VCU’s Global Education Office provided an abundance of resources and guidance to help ensure my trip abroad would be memorable. The office helped me sort out transfer credits with my selected school and even provided a list of scholarships.

As a junior, I know the possibility of studying abroad is not completely gone. I don’t think programs will resume for the summer, but I have high hopes that fall 2021 trips will take place.

With a pandemic dictating our lives, it is important that we stay patient and follow the recommendations of those trying to aid and protect us. VCU’s cancellation of study abroad programs is just another example of how far our community is from beating the pandemic. We need to stay healthy, distant and — most importantly — safe.

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