In a decision that came as a shock to almost no one, students were notified via email on September 14 that all study abroad had been cancelled for spring 2021. As a result, fall 2019 remains the last semester where students were able to enjoy an uninterrupted study abroad experience.
Interim Dean of the College Joyce Bylander cited the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and its associated challenges—including closed borders, quarantines, and difficulties obtaining travel documents—as the reason for scrapping spring study abroad.
“We know this decision will be incredibly disappointing,” she wrote. “It is heartbreaking for all of us, as we know how many students look forward to studying abroad and we love working with all of you.”
According to the college’s website, historically almost half of Haverford students have studied abroad, generally during junior year. Although some students enroll at a foreign university for an entire year, the vast majority participate in a single-semester program.
Kara D’Ascenzo ’22 had been planning to study abroad during the spring semester in Siena, Italy, through an IES program. As a political science major with minors in history and environmental science, she was hoping to take some history classes along with introductory Italian.
“I was most looking forward to getting to live somewhere I wouldn’t ordinarily have the opportunity to live,” she said. She added that she had been particularly excited about the chance to live with a host family during her time in Italy. For the study abroad programs that offer it, many Haverford students cite their home stay as one of the most cherished parts of their experience, allowing them to gain language skills and immerse themselves in the environment of a new country.
Even if the pandemic abates, the demands of senior thesis make it unlikely that many members of the Class of 2022 will be able to study abroad next year. “Since the poli sci thesis has a fall research component, even if I could somehow arrange it, I don’t think that I’d really want to, because that’s such an important part of poli sci at Haverford,” explained D’Ascenzo.
Though she’s sad about her plans being cancelled, D’Ascenzo would like to live outside the United States after college if she can find a suitable job or internship. “I hope I’ll be able to go in the future and do something similar,” she said, “but it would look a lot different.”
Will Harris-Braun ’22 had decided on a program in Seoul after getting a glowing review from Colin Fredrickson ’20, who studied there in spring 2019. “I was excited to put a lot of effort into learning as much Korean as I could while I was there,” said Harris-Braun, a computer science and linguistics double major.
For Harris-Braun, who hails from the tiny town of East Chatham in upstate New York, living in Seoul (population: 9.7 million) would have been quite the change of pace. But COVID threw a wrench in his plans, like so many others. “Things definitely aren’t turning out the way I wanted them to,” lamented Harris-Braun.
If there’s any consolation to be found, it’s in the fact that Haverford’s sudden closure last spring has left students with a renewed appreciation for the time they have left on campus, making the loss of study abroad a bit less painful.
“I was expecting to be on campus sophomore year and then have a semester away. But since I had to leave when we got sent home last semester, I kind of wanted to come back,” said Harris Braun. “I was like, ‘Hey! Give me my college back!’”
As for the sophomore class, its members are holding out hope that study abroad will resume by fall 2021 or spring 2022.
“I was planning on going to New Zealand in the spring of my junior year and studying physics at the University of Otago,” said Eva White ’23. “That’s more than a year away, but I have hope that in a year the borders will be open and I’ll be able to get out of the US into New Zealand.”
Unlike many older students, White isn’t worrying about missing out on a “normal” semester at Haverford once the pandemic is contained. “I feel very strongly about going abroad,” she said, adding that having a STEM-friendly study abroad program was one of her must-haves for college.
In her email, Dean Bylander expressed a sense of cautious optimism: “We are hopeful that study abroad in Fall 2021 will be possible and are planning for that possibility.” In the age of COVID, there is no telling what conditions will look like in a month, let alone in a year, but the recent news that vaccines against the virus appear to be highly effective provides a glimmer of hope on the horizon.