Hundreds of UF students had plans to travel around the world this Summer. But due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, their plans have been postponed or canceled.
Despite UF’s increasing confidence that the COVID-19 pandemic is coming to an end, 56 UF Sponsored study abroad programs for this Summer have been canceled. 37 still plan to run and three will operate virtually with students based in the United States, said Associate Director of Study Abroad Services Jill Ranaivoson.
The UF International Center is deciding on a case-by-case basis whether the more than 500 study abroad programs currently available should operate, UFIC Dean Leonardo Villalón said. He said some programs have been or will be canceled because they haven’t fulfilled their enrollment quotas.
Others are limited by their destination countries’ travel restrictions, such as Australia, which has closed its borders, he said.
“This is obviously extraordinarily disappointing for everybody concerned,” he said. “We’re in the business of trying to make it possible for students to study abroad and encourage them to do so.”
Students may choose to study abroad to experience new cultures, fulfill credit requirements or meet people from around the world. Last year, all UF Sponsored study abroad programs were canceled starting in February following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ranaivoson said. Some students were forced to return to the United States after their UF Sponsored program was canceled, while other students in exchange programs decided to stay in their new country.
This Summer, four out of five study abroad programs in the department of Spanish and Portuguese studies have already been canceled. UF in Rio de Janeiro will be one program that will operate virtually this Summer.
The students in virtual programs will be based in the United States and attend classes. Depending on the program, online classes will be taught by UF faculty or an institution from the destination country. The programs also include virtual cultural components. UF in Rio de Janeiro will have online classes led by both UF staff and IBEU (Instituto Brasil-Estados Unidos) and virtual excursions.
The College of Journalism and Communications also canceled all of its Summer programs, including a trip to Tokyo to cover the Olympics.
UFIC must consider each country’s policies regarding COVID-19 testing, quarantining and entry for travelers from the U.S. Sometimes, Villalón said, these considerations make it easy to decide to cancel a program. If the country won’t allow travelers, then the program can’t take place regardless of other factors.
For programs that aren’t so clear-cut, Villalón said UFIC is considering each individually. UFIC will aim to notify students about whether or not a program will still be happening about four to six weeks before its start, he said.
In an attempt to prevent cancellation, UFIC is working to shift dates for certain programs from the beginning of summer to the end to increase the possibility the trips will take place, Villalón said. If a program is canceled, students already admitted will be given priority if it runs again.
Money is one of UFIC’s main concerns when deciding whether to cancel, postpone or continue with the programs, Villalón said.
In most cases, he said, the programs will be canceled before students begin payment. In the event a program gets canceled after students have paid a deposit or other fees, they will be reimbursed completely.
However, if the program goes forward but a student decides not to participate due to safety reasons, UFIC’s normal cancellation policies apply, Villalón said.
Apart from student financial concerns, Villalón said UFIC must also consider its own finances when making the decision. When COVID-19 canceled UF’s Summer 2020 study abroad programs, UFIC had to refund more than $650,000 total to about 2,000 students — a tedious process, he said. Some programs require non-refundable down payments, which means UFIC will lose the money if they decide to cancel the trip.
“We’re negotiating as hard as we can on every possible program to make sure that there are no expenses up-front until we know for certain whether programs are going to run to try to minimize everybody’s liability, including ours,” he said.
Growing up with a Canadian mother, Olivia Dodge learned to endure and love traveling long distances.
“She’s traveled all around the world a few times, so I just know that was always something I wanted to do,” Dodge, a 21-year-old UF mechanical engineering junior, said.
But now, she’s worried she won’t experience everything her study abroad program usually has to offer.
Dodge planned to attend the UF in Dublin Engineering Internship program last Summer, but it was canceled due to COVID-19, she said. While her goal this year was to participate in both the Dublin and UF in Iceland programs, the Iceland trip was postponed from this Spring to late Summer—its new dates conflicting with the Dublin trip.
Dodge said she ultimately chose to continue with the Dublin program.
Aside from the experience of living in a new country, she is counting on this program to fulfill some of her elective requirements. Canceling the program would mean dropping either her economics or business administration minor to graduate on time, Dodge said.
She’s planning on using what she learns during the program to help her in her future position as a nuclear officer within the U.S. Navy.
“I was really hoping to learn a lot for my future job through this internship,” she said. “I would feel a little less confident going into my future profession without this kind of experience.”
She will also be living in homestay accommodations, she said. If her homestay family is uncomfortable housing her, she won’t have a place to stay.
Despite the uncertainty and limitations surrounding her summer plans, Dodge remains hopeful she will be able to travel to Ireland.
“I think my family is a bit tired of how optimistic I have been about the situation,” she said.
Contact Sofia Echeverry at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sofecheverry.
Sofia is a news assistant on The Alligator's university desk. This is her second semester at paper, where she previously worked as a translator for El Caimán.