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Coronavirus extends uncertainty of study abroad programs into the fall semester


DTH Photo Illustration. A UNC student holds a suitcase and a surgical mask on campus on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. The coronavirus has cancelled various study abroad programs. 

As the fall semester approaches, many UNC students who planned on spending the semester studying abroad are wondering whether their programs will still occur due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Director of Global Relations Katie Bowler Young said in an emailed statement from UNC Media Relations that the approval of next semester’s international academic programs is uncertain. 

“It is still too early to offer a timeline about when some of the global disruptions may change and allow for a resumption of travel,” she said in the statement. 

Young said students will be notified if fall international academic programs, including study abroad, are canceled or if major obstacles to international travel persist. 

“The global response to the COVID-19 outbreak has been unprecedented and has caused disruptions to travel worldwide,” Young said in the statement. 

Tracy Ridley is a first-year student majoring in contemporary European studies. He said he was planning on attending Yonsei University in South Korea this upcoming fall and then traveling to Berlin in the spring. 

Ridley said his fall study abroad program is still set to take place, but he has to plan for all possibilities. 

“The uncertainty of this situation being fluid is frustrating,” Ridley said. “I know it’s not the Study Abroad Office's fault or the University’s, but it’s just the protocols that we have to go through. So, I have to plan on being on campus in the fall, but also there is a chance that I’ll go.” 

The UNC Study Abroad Office created an FAQ page on its website to address concerns students may have about their programs and the semester. 

According to the FAQ page, the Office suggests that students planning to study abroad during the fall semester should still register for classes on campus. 

“If there are specific courses that you need to take in the Fall 2020 semester, particularly ones that have limited enrollment, we advise that you go ahead and register for them,” the FAQ states. 

Students who have already applied for on-campus housing will not be penalized by Carolina Housing for canceling their contract. If students have not applied for on-campus housing, the Office suggests they wait to learn about the status of the trip. 

Despite his plans for studying abroad this fall, Ridley said he has still had to search for fall semester housing and pick classes just in case his study abroad is canceled. 

He said a study abroad adviser told him that a more concrete decision regarding the status of fall 2020 study abroad programs would be made in June.

“Until they tell me that I’m not going, I am going,” Ridley said. “I applied for on-campus housing. I’m still waiting for my reassignment. I have to focus on signing up for classes I actually need because I didn’t have to worry about that before. Just planning for all possibilities right now.” 

According to the Study Abroad Office, students with canceled trips will need to apply for housing through Carolina Housing and will be guaranteed a space to live on campus.

But Ridley said he is keeping a positive outlook about the future. 

“I’m feeling a little bit of disappointment,” Ridley said. “There is a chance that I could not go, but I’m not going to worry about what’s not real right now because I don’t have the mental capacity for that. Right now, I’m staying optimistic.” 

Ridley isn’t the only student trying to stay optimistic. 

Kyra Miles, a junior majoring in media and journalism, said she began her study abroad this semester before COVID-19 cut it short. She spent three weeks as an exchange student at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea studying Korean media and the Korean language. 

When the University announced that her study abroad program this semester was canceled, Miles said she was devastated.

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“I think I cried for about two weeks because that trip had been such a big part of my experience at Carolina,” Miles said. 

Miles signed up to study abroad in South Korea again during the upcoming fall semester, with hopes that she will be able to finish her program this time.

“Whether or not it happens, I am determined to go abroad,” Miles said. “If this does fall through, I won’t be able to study abroad again. But, I am optimistic that I’ll be able to go back to South Korea.” 

Miles said she has also planned ahead to find classes for next semester. As a rising senior, she said she hopes that she can still be on track to graduate on time. 

“The study abroad office told us to register for fall classes just as a contingency plan because they can’t give us any concrete stuff about whether or not study abroad is going to actually happen,” Miles said. “It’s weird to think about the classes that I registered for, I might not even get to take. It’s like having two plans in your head that are both very tangible, but it’s weird.” 

She said that if she gets the chance to return to South Korea in the fall that she would pick up where she left off from her last time abroad.

“When I was there for those three weeks, I couldn’t go anywhere because of coronavirus because they were banning certain travel within the country," Miles said. “I am looking forward to exploring more of Korea. It’s something that I am sad that I didn’t get to do before I left.” 

Ridley said he had plans to travel to China or Japan during his time abroad. He said he may not be able to because of the pandemic, even if he is able to go on his trip. 

“I am just adapting to this new normal,” he said. “I know some things that I might have wanted to do before, I might not be able to do because of how, specifically, South Korea has been responding to this. I don’t think the experience will be the same, but it’s still an experience that’s pretty hard to come by.”