As the weather gets warmer and the semester trudges on, students are beginning to prepare their summer plans.
After COVID-19 disrupted many of the opportunities students had lined up last summer, this coming break seems to hold potential for reconciling some of those losses.
One loss that will remain unattainable for many students, however, is the opportunity to study abroad.
Most UNC study abroad programs have been canceled since the pandemic began. This upcoming summer seems to be following its predecessors, as programs are being removed one by one.
Going abroad is a huge privilege. Even without the pandemic, it is extremely cost-prohibitive. Many students are only able to afford these opportunities because of grants or scholarship money.
That’s part of what makes it all the more saddening to see it taken away — the students who were able to make their study abroad trips financially plausible for this summer aren’t going to be able to see the opportunity fulfilled.
Going abroad during one’s undergraduate career isn’t something that can be entirely replicated after college is over. Financial constraints may make the opportunity much more difficult, if not impossible.
With new COVID-19 variants appearing around the globe and continuously high case numbers, it isn’t surprising that UNC has canceled many of its study abroad programs. Travel abroad was a primary reason for the pandemic's quick escalation in 2019, when the virus was first discovered — so much so that multiple countries have inflicted travel bans at various points throughout the past year.
It isn’t unreasonable to cancel these programs considering the potential for virus transmission they might invoke and the current state of the crisis still surrounding COVID-19.
That doesn't make the news any less disappointing.
Study abroad provides the opportunity to expand one’s cultural knowledge. Without these experiences, students aren’t able to take part in international and cross-cultural conversations in the hands-on way that study abroad provides. Now, some students may no longer have the chance to participate in these experiences.
It’s impossible to not feel disheartened by this development. For most students, studying abroad requires careful planning and consideration of one’s major and academic plan. For some, studying abroad during the summer is the only way they can fit the opportunity into their schedule and graduate within four years.
COVID-19 has rendered many of us stagnant. Unable to attend in-person classes or attend in-person events, the safest — and often the only — option is to stay in our homes.
The desire to escape the four walls that have dominated the landscape of 2020 is more pressing than ever, and the inability to leave home once again feels overwhelmingly disappointing.
Study abroad isn’t the only experience negatively impacted by the pandemic. Internships, fellowships and other programs have been placed online or canceled, drastically altering the experiences students have been able to have. Instead of exploring new places and learning hands-on, we joined virtual tours and conference calls.
Virtual experiences aren’t as valuable in preparing us for a world beyond our college years. Extracurricular activities and experiences — like study abroad — help to shape our interests and knowledge of the world.
It’s disappointing to think that a whole generation of students are missing out on the opportunity and insights that studying abroad can provide.
Still, it is better to err on the side of caution, and to respect public health and human lives.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.