WKU Office of Global Learning discusses outlook of study abroad for the year

Zena Pare wears a pair of passport earrings given to her by her mother after she returned from her first Semester at Sea trip. Pare was planning on going on another study abroad trip next semester, this time to Paris, before the pandemic cancelled her plans.

Kelley Holland

In March, students participating in study abroad programs at WKU were sent home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Students who planned to study abroad over the summer and this fall were unable to travel, and it is uncertain when they will be able to do so.

There are currently no registered WKU students studying abroad, according to John Sunnygard, associate provost of the WKU Office of Global Learning and International Affairs.

“Most of the countries where our students tend to study have temporarily closed their borders to Americans due to the high U.S. infection rate,” Sunnygard said.

Sunnygard said there are very few countries accepting American students and restrictions change frequently.

“It is heartbreaking for my colleagues and I to have to temporarily restrain students from travelling to another country to expand their education,” Sunnygard said.

Zena Pare, a junior, was supposed to travel to the American Business School of Paris this semester, but the trip was cancelled.

“I think it was something that we were expecting so it wasn’t like a big surprise,” Pare said.

Pare said she had already studied abroad twice, so the cancellation wasn’t too big of a disappointment.

“It was something that I was very thankful that I was already able to have that experience,” Pare said. “Public health and safety is more important right now.”

Other students like Erin Donelson, a senior, decided not to go through with the trip before it was ultimately cancelled.

Donelson was supposed to be studying and participating in an internship in Florence, Italy this semester. But when the pandemic hit in March, she had second thoughts. With safety regulations in place, Donelson felt that she wasn’t going to have the experience that she wanted.

“I really took a step back and thought about what seemed realistic or what financially I was going to be able to do,” Donelson said. “The biggest reason I changed my mind was because I knew it wouldn’t be the same culture.”

Donelson said she has never studied abroad before and she was hoping to have the opportunity for her senior year.

Despite the challenges, both Donelson and Pare were thankful that the study abroad advisors kept them informed and let them know what options were available for the future.

“Study Abroad was making sure they had students’ best interests in mind,” Pare said.

Sunnygard said that it is very unlikely that students will be able to travel abroad during the Spring 2021 semester, but the WKU Office of Global Learning and International Affairs is exploring different virtual options for students in the meantime. He said students can participate in virtual global learning opportunities and internships.

Overall, Sunnygard is staying hopeful.

“COVID-19 is temporary,” Sunnygard said. “Humans can be clever and we will overcome this.”