International destinations are slowly beginning to welcome tourists and travelers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still says that traveling increases the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19, but the University of Georgia’s StudyAway program is moving forward with its plans to send students abroad for the spring 2021 semester.
Study abroad programs were suspended by the university in March due to the pandemic, which ultimately forced UGA to suspend in-person learning and close campus. Before airlines suspended travel, students who had already begun their trip overseas were called back to the United States and urged to quarantine. Students awaiting departures to foreign destinations in the upcoming months were informed of the cancellation shortly before the shutdown.
While the university’s study abroad programs remain open to the chances of executing the spring 2021 start date, Director of Global Education for UGA, Yana A. Cornish, believes students should proceed on the side of caution.
“Students are advised to have good backup plans in place (i.e. pre-registered for on-campus/online course) should their upcoming program be canceled,” Cornish said.
With the cancellation of past semester trips in place, students are looking to the university for clarification on a proper timeline for reimbursements. When asked about the university's plan to refund students, Cornish said, “students receive full refunds in the event of program cancellation by the university.”
This however does not apply to the early application period for the upcoming program trips because students are required to commit to a program fee upon applying. The fee is not refunded unless the program is canceled by the university, according to the withdrawal policy. Students are able to withdraw from the program but are responsible for paying varied portions of the fee, depending on when the student decides to withdraw.
Samantha Collins, a third-year pre-vet animal science major, was scheduled to participate in UGA’s Maymester program last summer. That program would have sent Collins to Cortona, Italy for three weeks.
“I committed to it [Maymester program] through the program deposit. That got refunded pretty quickly,” Collins said when asked about reimbursement. But Collins said she has yet to receive a $100 flight deposit refund through a company the university uses for booking flights. The company is Travel by Design and has not commented at this time.
Collins was disappointed that she couldn’t participate in the program, and while the university has offered a guaranteed spot in the upcoming semester’s program, she doesn’t know if she will commit because of her desire to attend UGA’s School of Veterinary Medicine this spring.
“I really wanted to do it this past year, I felt like this was going to be the perfect year to do it. I wouldn’t be waiting to hear back for vet school or worrying about anything else,” Collins said. “This coming year, I’m not sure if I’ll commit again because I hear back from vet school in March, and I’ll have to commit before that.”
There is no guarantee that travel will be safe or prohibited for students by spring 2021. Italy is still currently closed to U. S. travel due to the pandemic, while England allows travel into the country but requires visitors to self-isolate for 14 days upon their arrival.
Despite the uncertainty, StudyAway is still actively pursuing its domestic programs, including the Washington Semester program at UGA’s Delta Hall located in Washington, D.C. The program officially reopened on August 19th, according to Don DeMaria, the director of the Washington Semester Program.
Delta Hall has reduced its capacity by 50% and is following health guidelines in correlation to those put in place by the university, DeMaria said. “We have made many physical and programmatic adjustments to encourage social distancing and good health habits,” he said.
The program is currently open to all undergraduate majors, sophomore year and above who are also currently holding a GPA of 3.0 at the time of applying. DeMaria said that the program is not able to admit students who had a canceled fall semester study abroad program.
DeMaria also stressed the program’s efforts to work with concerned students during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We developed a fully remote cohort in our program to accommodate students who decided it was best to remain in Georgia for the semester,” DeMaria said.