Studying abroad in 2021-2022 has a lot of uncertainty

Maria Fernanda Rubi

Currently, there are no concrete plans regarding the study abroad programs for summer and fall 2021 and J-term 2022. However, the school and faculty are promoting different programs for the upcoming terms.
Pedro Bidegaray, director of international and off-campus programs, is in charge of promoting international education to students and fostering a global understanding of the world through studying abroad and doing internships.
Now, the organization requires different things, including having a closer relationship with the students enrolled. “Promoting includes raising awareness by making sure [students] understand the risk and ensuring that they are not making any payments ahead that can’t be refunded,” Bidegaray said.
Students won’t need to make their payments to Augustana College until close to the day of departure.
Considering Brazil’s infection rate and their reluctant response to vaccination, there is uncertainty if the program will be carried out in J-Term 2022.
“Since we are still nine months away, [Magalhães and third-party providers] want to wait and see the restrictions there would be and how our activities will be affected,” Mariano Magalhães, professor of political science, said.
International traveling is another factor influencing whether or not the programs will take place. Marsha Smith, an  retired anthropology professor, is co-directing the J-Term 2022 Japan program. For a program to occur, a certain number of students need to be enrolled first.
According to Smith, filling the seats in is one of several struggles the program faces. For the program to take place, directors organize the logistics and expenses of the lodging and any activities that will be part of the course. However, because of COVID-19 uncertainty, decisions cannot be made right away.
“If we recruit the class we need, we still need to see if hotels would be open and the travel restrictions set by that time, but if we don’t make it, we would be moving the trip to May,” Smith said.
Organizing the trip also means having more communication with third parties.
Jason Mahn, professor of religion and director of the presidential center for faith and learning, is organizing the domestic trip to Holden Village during J-Term 2022.
“There is a lot of communication with the village about the steps we should be taking,” Mahn said.
The trip will be the same as this year’s cancelled program. However, instead of going by plane, the group will be taking a train. Aside from traveling logistics, the experience and activities done would be the same.
“Because of the small, close community and its small exposure to the pandemic, Holden will still be an adventurous, meaningful place,” Mahn said.
Any final decision of whether or not the program will occur and how it will work is still yet to happen. “Just at Augustana in general, we haven’t approached COVID-19 with anticipation, but we do it as getting closer to the date to make realistic decisions and avoid making assumptions,” Bidegaray said.
Some students expressed stress due to the uncertainty around study abroad trips. Sophomore Esther Zange, enrolled in the Seville, Spain Fall 2021 program, is not informed of most of the trip’s details.
“I have no idea when we will be leaving or how it will work, but the staff told me they would try everything they can to make the trip happen,” Zange said.
Sophomore Rachel Heikkinen has also been accepted to the same course. According to Heikkinen, the school has been vague, yet encouraging.
“There is a possibility the trip might get cancelled, but the CORE staff has made us feel safe about our decision and our options in case it does not happen,” Heikkinen said.
CORE has assured that future opportunities to travel abroad would be provided if their enrolled program is cancelled.
Throughout, Zange has kept a positive attitude toward the nature of the trip. “Coming to college, I always knew I wanted to study abroad, which is why I applied despite the pandemic, Zange said.  “CORE reassured us there would be future opportunities in case it gets cancelled.”
Graduating 2021 seniors will be able to use their Augie Choice money for internships over this coming summer.
Although studying abroad will look different from previous years, some express hope is that it will be a more enriching experience.
“Seeing how the pandemic has affected more areas of the world would be an opportunity for students to understand and witness a recent, real-world issue,” Magalhães said.