Study abroad fair held virtually to help students plan for future programs

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COVID-19 has impacted many aspects of WKU academics, but the pandemic has especially impacted students’ ability to study abroad. All of WKU’s study abroad programs for last summer and fall were cancelled. 

John Sunnygard, associate provost of Global Learning, and International Affairs, said that COVID-19 has caused many changes within the study abroad program from canceling or postponing trips to holding the Study Abroad Fair virtually. 

“The global pandemic has forced us to rethink everything that we do,” Sunnygard said. “We have been looking beyond study abroad and study away to enable WKU students to continue to engage in the world.  Students seeking to study abroad have had to delay and postpone their travel.  We continue to advise students on program selection, scholarships, etc.”

Diana Howard, a study abroad advisor, said while traveling is currently out of the question, students have still been able to connect with people virtually.

“Pre-COVID, WKU sent an average of 500 students abroad each year. We may not be able to travel at the moment but we are still able to celebrate world cultures, discuss relevant world issues and experience global learning virtually,” Howard said.

There will be no WKU faculty-led programs in May 2021, the Study Abroad faculty will decide on Feb. 15th if any WKU faculty-led programs will depart in June 2021.

The Office of Study Abroad and Global Learning is having a virtual Study Abroad Fair from Feb. 1st to 4th. WKU is collaborating with other colleges throughout Kentucky including NKU, UK, EKU, MSU, and UofL.

“Pre-COVID the in-person study abroad fair was a one day event,” Howard said. “Since COVID we made it a week-long virtual event. Our universities share common program providers so instead of those providers presenting multiple times, we scheduled them simultaneously and had them present to all of our campus populations at the same time.”  

Howard said that more students have started planning ahead if they want to study abroad.

“Students continue to schedule meetings with our study abroad advisors,” Howard said. “A lot of the students we are advising now are looking for programs in the Spring of 2022.  We are seeing more and more freshmen who want to plan ahead and are being strategic in their approach to where and when they plan to study abroad.”

Sunnygard said that the Office of Study Abroad and Global Learning is planning for Fall and is trying to limit hurdles stopping students from studying abroad including grades, financial problems or helping students find a program for their major. 

“We are cautiously hopeful for the fall,” Sunnygard said. “We are watching things very closely with the slim hope that Summer programs may be able to go.  We are gearing up to have a strong Spring 2022 and Summer 2022.  I know that there will be a lot of pent-up demand.  We will not go back to study abroad as it was.”

Sunnygard also said that having a study abroad opportunity is important to an education.

“No education is complete without some level of understanding the broader world and the awareness and impacts of cultural differences,” He said. “It is a pillar of an American liberal arts education. WKU’s Colonnade program is a good example which includes a study abroad option.  Studying in another country, gaining the full experience of an academic discipline in a different culture is positively transformative.”

Debra Murray can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @debramurrayy