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Education Abroad Office cancels nine of 11 study abroad programs for summer 2021

U.Va. in Valencia and U.Va. in Florence programs are still scheduled to occur

<p>Eleven study abroad <a href=""><u>programs</u></a> in six countries — Italy, Costa Rica, Jordan, France, Great Britain and Spain — were originally scheduled to take place.&nbsp;</p>

Eleven study abroad programs in six countries — Italy, Costa Rica, Jordan, France, Great Britain and Spain — were originally scheduled to take place. 

As vaccination rates pick up speed, officials in the International Studies Office have been considering whether study abroad programs for summer 2021 are possible. On Wednesday, the University’s Education Abroad office canceled nine study abroad programs scheduled to take place this summer, including U.Va. in Lyon and U.Va. in Jordan. Currently still scheduled to run are the U.Va. in Valencia and U.Va. in Florence programs, which are both operated by in-country providers. 

The other nine programs — which included programs in Costa Rica, Jordan, France and Great Britain — were canceled because of public health conditions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in each host country. The University reviewed border guidelines, the current public health situation and travel restrictions in each country to make this decision. Application fees for the programs will be refunded to students. 

According to Dudley Doane, director of international, summer and special academic programs, the International Studies Office is cautiously optimistic that the Valencia and Florence programs will run, but students are advised to have a backup plan, as public health situations in the host countries may change.  

“No decisions on student plans to join summer education abroad programs will be made more than four weeks before a student’s program start date,” Doane said in an email to the Cavalier Daily. “We expect local operating conditions and national policies on entry and movement to be dynamic in the upcoming weeks but hope to see positive developments.” 

The U.Va. in Valencia program has four different subdivisions for students interested in business, global health, language and culture and sports, language and culture. Depending on their course of study, students will enroll in a relevant course related to their field as well as a Spanish language course. Students may visit local healthcare or sports facilities or participate in service-learning internships, but some activities may be limited due to the pandemic. 

Those in the U.Va. in Florence program must enroll in an Italian language course in addition to taking another elective course. Trips may include museum visits and attendance at performances, but activities are also contingent upon evolving public health conditions. According to Francesca Calamita, director of University study abroad programs in Italy and assistant professor, the program will run from mid-June till the end of July. Students will stay in housing provided by ISI Florence. Calamita says that the program in Siena, Italy will offer online program options.

Prior to the cancellation of nine of the summer programs, the professors leading the U.Va. in Lyon program and the U.Va. in Jordan program contemplated the possibility of study abroad occurring and had already laid out detailed, revised plans. 

The U.Va. in Lyon program was originally scheduled to take place from June 19 through July 17. Students were required to take a 3000- or 4000-level French class during the program while also learning about French politics and culture. 

The U.Va. in Lyon program has been running since 2001, but the program was going to look significantly different than previous years this summer because of COVID-19. According to Janet Horne, program director for U.Va. in Lyon and French professor, students were going to take day trips to locations around Lyon but would not stay overnight anywhere, in contrast with past years when the program included overnight trips. Like previous years, lodgings would be in a restored 17th century building converted into a hotel, but students would take in-person class from meeting rooms in the hotel itself.

Horne said that she tried her best to make the program happen because there was a strong student interest. In response to a survey sent out in January, over 70 students responded that they were interested in participating in the program this summer. There would have been space for about 20 students to participate while in normal years the program would have 40 students. Horne said that even if the program did not end up happening this year, she wanted to make sure that students had the option, if possible.

“I just wanted to be able to offer an option to students and to encourage them to continue their study of foreign languages because I really think that the study of foreign languages is a key to unlocking a lot of knowledge that we need, especially as Americas, to understand other cultures, ourselves and our role in the world,” Horne said.

Horne was cautiously optimistic about the possibility of the Lyon program happening and up until the program’s official cancellation, continued to advise interested students that the trip was dependent on evolving public health conditions. Regardless of the final decision, students were given the option to withdraw depending on what public health conditions look like in May and June. 

“No matter what you should have a plan B because this is a very changing and somewhat volatile situation still,” Horne said. “Everyone, if they apply, can withdraw if they change their mind, no penalty.”

France is experiencing a third wave of COVID-19 cases, with an average case count of about 36,000 in the last seven days, as of March 30. Vaccine rollout has so far been slow, with approximately 10.4 million doses administered. Only 12 percent of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to 46 percent of the population of the United Kingdom and 29 percent of the population of the United States. 

Another program originally set to run this summer was the U.Va. in Jordan trip. This trip was offered for the first time as a J-term in 2020, and 18 students participated. Through this program, students were scheduled to travel to Amman, Jordan from June 4 through June 14 to study the politics, economics, history and culture of Jordan. Students would have taken day trips to historical sites like Petra and the Roman city of Jerash and well as visit the Dead Sea, Wadi Rum desert, and Madaba. Although last year participants travelled to each location on different days, this year the plan was to combine trips to Madaba and the Dead Sea into one day to alleviate some transportation costs for students. 

Bilal Humeidan, program director for U.Va. in Jordan and Arabic professor, said that he hoped that the program would be able to run, but it depended on public health conditions in both Virginia and Jordan as well as the capacity of the host institution — the Qasid Institute — to prepare for different public health scenarios. One important factor was whether the host institution was able to provide quarantine housing in the event that students tested positive. 

Like France, Jordan is currently experiencing a third wave of COVID-19 cases, with a seven-day daily average of 7,705 cases on March 30. Over the last seven days, there have been 75 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, while in the United States there have been about 20 cases per 100,000, with a seven-day average of 65,358 cases as of March 30.

“Things are improving in the US, but I’m not sure if that’s going to be enough [for the program to run],” Humeidan said. “If things are worsening in Jordan and things are improving here, I don’t know if they’ll feel comfortable letting the program run.” 

Because of concerns that international travel will potentially further spread the COVID-19 virus, international University-related travel is currently restricted through May 31. The University restricts travel to countries rated as Level 3 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. France and Jordan are both currently at Level 4, meaning that they have very high levels of COVID-19, and the CDC recommends that travelers avoid visiting these countries. These ratings would need to decrease prior to University travel being approved.

According to Horne, a way to minimize spread of the virus is vaccination, and while the University is not able to require that students be vaccinated, requirements could come from the host countries themselves. 

The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, is considering implementing a “digital green certificate” to allow entry into the EU while minimizing the spread of COVID-19. The certificate would act as a vaccination passport and contain details about whether a traveler has received a vaccine protecting against COVID-19. This would allow some international travel to open up while also severely limiting further spread of the virus. 

Calamita also says that the vaccine passport is one of the conditions for making sure the U.Va. in Florence program runs. 

“Thanks to the vaccines, the COVID-free flights and a possible vaccine passport for travellers, we hope students will be able to visit our wonderful study abroad program in Tuscany,” Calamita said in an email to the Cavalier Daily. 

Countries that rely heavily on tourism, like Greece, have been strong advocates for this new measure, which could revive their economies and prevent further damage to economic conditions. Other countries, however, such as France and Germany, have criticized the proposal as discriminatory, as only certain groups will be vaccinated in time to use the passport this summer. 

The European Commission suggests that the certificate would be a way to provide proof that travelers are vaccinated against COVID-19, that they have already contracted and recovered from COVID-19 or that they have recently received a negative test result. This certificate would be temporary, only valid until the World Health Organization ceases to consider COVID-19 a public health emergency. It has maintained that designation since January 30, 2020.

Regardless, Horne said she wanted to do all that she could to make study abroad a possibility for her students.

“I’ve invested a lot of time throughout my career in helping create opportunities for students to study abroad,” Horne said. “Because to me, when you’re learning a foreign language it doesn’t make any sense to stay in Central Virginia. You need to go out and interact with the world, this year more than ever.”

Students can still apply to the U.Va. in Valencia program, with applications due May 1. Applications for the U.Va. in Florence program were due March 15. 

This article has been updated with additional information about the Valencia and Florence programs.