By: Teresa Schuster / Staff Writer
Around 600 students’ study abroad trips have been canceled this summer, including that of Jordan Coll, a senior majoring in journalism who intended to study abroad in Spain this summer.
“I was pretty disappointed,” Coll said. “I think studying there…would have [been] a good thing for my portfolio.”
Students in the Spain program would have done media and communications work with an international non-profit organization and a newspaper.
“Studying abroad opens their minds, not only about other cultures and people, but also about themselves,” said David Park, the program’s director. “They also make new friends from the program who often remain close for years after the Communication and Media in Spain program is over.”
Media companies and newspapers prefer to hire graduates with international experience, according to Park, because they “have a better ability to contextualize and analyze the topics they report on” and can better cover global issues.
“[It’s] an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Park said. “The opportunity to help other people, learn about the world, and gain valuable skills employers look for is priceless.”
When the pandemic started, FIU brought all its students home, starting in February with 7 students in China, and later 37 studying in other countries.
FIU then canceled all its summer and fall travel, including study abroad programs, after the situation became more serious.
FIU sends 900 to 1,000 students abroad every year, including around 600 students who participate in faculty-led study abroad programs, according to Alejandra Parra, who oversees FIU’s programs in the Office of Education Abroad.
FIU’s other programs include international exchange, where students swap places with a student at one of FIU’s partner institutions abroad, and third-party programs coordinated by companies.
Most students who planned to participate in a summer study abroad program were able to take classes online instead, and did not lose credits.
“The main implication for us was not being able to provide them with an international experience,” said Parra.
Others agree. Naoko Komura, who runs a study abroad program in Tokyo, Japan, believes the 20 or so students who planned on participating would have been “immersed in an optimal environment for short-term intensive language study.”
Program participants are paired with “buddies” from a Japanese university, who help them practice Japanese and accompany them around Tokyo.
“Students have actual experiences of not only usage of Japanese language but also seeing Japanese society and lifestyle as well as traditional Japanese culture,” said Komura.
Another program canceled was in the Middle East, open to students of all majors.
Held in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, it introduces students to the historical, socio-economical, geographic, and cultural aspects of linkages between the countries, and included meetings with scholars, government officials, and local leaders.
“It is one thing to learn about something from a textbook, it is another to actually travel to and directly interact with the topic or region you are studying,” Mohamed Ghumrawi, the program’s director, said. “I believe that traveling is one of the best methods of learning.”
Since the program was scheduled for July, there was enough time to cancel reservations and give students full refunds.
“Many of them were disappointed that they were going to miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity to take part in this amazing program,” said Ghumrawi, adding that many intend to participate in the program next summer.
Parra said FIU may offer more spots in study abroad programs next summer, to ensure there is room for the students who want to participate.
“If they have to graduate [or] they don’t need the course [and] they already have the credits, that’s going to be very difficult to fit into their curriculum,” explained Parra. “But we’re all for that opportunity.”
For this fall, Parra said FIU is looking into virtual study abroad and exchange programs.
Virtual international internships, recently launched by FIU, are also an option. Six students are currently participating in one, according to Parra, and more opportunities will be available in the fall. Fully financed by FIU’s Office of Education Abroad and School of Business, they allow students to gain international experience without leaving home.
“It’s been a successful offering,” Parra said, adding that while the program was developed in response to the cancellation of study abroad, FIU is considering making it permanent.
“We want study abroad to be something that people have on their radar so that when the time comes they can take advantage of it,” said Parra.
Students can follow the Office of Education Abroad to receive updates about new opportunities.