Study abroad students sent back, trips cancelled for the semester

Many students studying abroad had to abruptly come home because of the rising intensity of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020. Later, the Study Abroad Office canceled all study abroad trips for this semester.

Tim Urbonya, executive director of international education, said they canceled the study abroad trips of over 200 students set to leave in the fall of 2020.

“There was a great disappointment on everybody’s part,” Urbonya said. “Our study abroad office wants to see students study abroad and have that experience. It’s in our blood and in our bones, so it’s very hard for us to pull the plug on that experience.” 

The decision of whether or not to cancel study abroad trips in the spring of 2021 will be made mid-October, Urbonya said. The office encourages students to hold off on semester study abroad programs until the fall of 2021 when it is likely that the pandemic will be more controlled.

Meanwhile, the Study Abroad Office is working to find ways to update the office’s processes.

Hannah Loera, publicity director in the Study Abroad Office, handles advertising, social media and the official website remotely this year.

Loera’s primary focus for the semester has been moving most of the Study Abroad Office’s resources to virtual formats, while also maintaining advertising and social media, utilizing photos from previous years’ trips.

“That has definitely been a big change as we are trying to work to move everything to be more virtual and accessible,” Loera says.

Loera says there are still virtual office hours available to those interested in studying abroad later in their Truman careers, and they are still promoting programs in the spring and summer of 2021, though the spring is uncertain.

There will be a virtual study abroad fair Oct. 1, hosted on Hopin, a virtual program that allows students to step up to booths, participate in breakout sessions and meet with people about all of the study abroad options.

Loera is also heading a diversity initiative to help minority students find programs that will allow them to feel safe and welcome when they study abroad.

Loera was called home early from a study abroad program to Finland because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senior Cara Gallagher was also called home from her study abroad experience early.

Gallagher was completing an internship-oriented study abroad experience through the Council on International Education Exchange in London when she was called home by the study abroad office.

“I was really impressed with how the Truman Study Abroad Office handled things,” Gallagher said. “They were really able to pay individual attention to people.”

Gallagher said she felt very supported through the process of her early arrival home, both by the Truman State Study Abroad Office and CIEE, and she was able to complete her internship from home.

She would participate in weekly meetings where she would wake up to start her day at 10 a.m. with a Zoom meeting, and she met with her co-workers at 5 p.m. in British Summer Time.

“They were ending their day and I was starting my work,” Gallagher said.

The Study Abroad Office is hopeful that semester-long programs will begin again fall of 2021.