Italy students

Villanova students studying abroad in Italy in January.

The novel coronavirus outbreak has caused turmoil around the world, creating uncertainty for many unsure of when current restrictions may be relaxed by governments and leading health organizations.  

For many students, Summer 2020 study abroad plans were cancelled, and now, those planning on traveling to Europe and other areas for Fall 2020 semester are unsure if their plans will be affected.

The Office of Education Abroad (OEA) has been operating remotely since the University switched to remote learning on March 16. All advisors have continued to be resources from afar for students.

On Tues, April 14, students with applications open to study abroad in Fall 2020 received an email from the Office of Education Abroad regarding a current update for their plans.

Titled “Message to Fall 2020 Study Abroad Students,” the email personally addressed each recipient and assured students the proper steps are being taken to ensure safety, should the programs continue as planned. 

“The Office of Education Abroad is carefully monitoring the state of international programming and opportunities to travel for our students in the fall,” the email stated. “At this time, we remain cautiously optimistic that fall study abroad programming will be able to be offered as planned. However, there are many factors and resources that will influence whether or not this will be possible, including the US State Department guidance, CDC directives, foreign government border restrictions, visa processing options and flight availability, to name only a few.”

The uncertainty has been difficult for many students. Many have attempted to remain optimistic that their scheduled plans will not be affected, but they are doing their best to keep everything in perspective. 

Eva Campbell, a rising junior planning on studying in Florence for next semester, is hopeful she will be able to study abroad later if her plans for the upcoming semester are cancelled. 

“I’m really sad that there’s a chance of not going abroad in the fall, but with everything going on it’s understandable,” Campbell said. “Everyone’s safety truly is the priority. I hope there’s another opportunity to go either in the spring or summer.”

The email went on to announce there will be a formal University decision soon. The OEA acknowledged that many students and their families may feel most comfortable deferring their programs to Spring 2021 or Summer 2021 terms. 

“Given the fluid situation, we aim to have a formal University decision by the end of May as to the viability of Fall 2020 study abroad,” the email stated.  “If you decide to defer to spring 2021 or to a future term at this point, please notify your OEA adviser and simply let your program or host University know your change of plans. We will update your file in the Passport Villanova system.  Of course, your OEA advisers are available to discuss, via Zoom any questions you may have moving forward. Feel free to set up an appointment via Handshake if you’d like to meet.”

Many students are torn about deferring their programs until Spring 2021, given half of the current spring semester was cut short. 

Abby Kobelski, a rising junior planning on studying abroad in Rome in the fall says she wouldn’t want to miss Spring semester for anything. 

“Spring is my favorite time at Villanova,” she said. “Basketball, hanging out in the Quad and studying outside is something I took for granted until this year. Because we had to leave mid spring semester, I do not plan to go abroad in the spring next year and miss out on campus and being with my friends again.”

There are other problems that may arise if all Fall 2020 study abroad programs are cancelled, like on-campus housing and class registration, but the OEA and the Office for Residence Life have tackled these problems the best they can. All students with applications to study abroad in the fall were advised to register for classes on campus for next semester, so once the decision is made for abroad opportunities, students will either remain in their classes or drop them.

Regarding on-campus housing, the email advised students to not worry, as they will be accommodated should they be on campus this coming fall. 

“The Office for Residence Life will honor the three-year on-campus housing guarantee for rising sophomores and juniors whose Fall 2020 study abroad plans are impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” the email stated. “For students who have confirmed that they will not be participating in their Fall 2020 study abroad program and who want to live on campus, please contact the Office of Residence Life at residencelife@villanova.edu so that you can be assigned housing. The housing assignment locations will be based on where existing vacancies exist on campus.”

The email continued by encouraging students to check their partner program or Host university to access any cancellation policies or withdraw charges, although most are being extremely generous given the situation. 

Signed “Best wishes, The Office of Education Abroad,” the Office reminded students to reach out if they have any questions or concerns. “We are here to support you during this difficult time don't hesitate to reach out,” the email closed.

With so much uncertainty and so much to plan, it’s been difficult for students to balance it all. 

Katherine Kuiken, a rising junior planning on studying in Milan, voiced her understanding that OEA also has a lot of decisions to weigh. 

“I think that while they are trying their hardest, this is obviously a very difficult situation in terms of gathering and distributing information to the students,” Kuiken said. “So much is unknown, and it is really tarnishing the whole idea of studying abroad, since more people are stressed about the backup plans that they have to make to stay on campus instead of being excited about possibly traveling the world. It’s sad to have watched the past few months unfold and to have no idea when things will get better, especially in terms of school.”

Students should check their emails from further updates regarding Fall 2020 study abroad plans, specifically for a formal decision by May 1, and they should be in contact with their OEA advisors if they have any questions or concerns.