Written by Caroline Birdwell
Harding students enrolled in 2020 summer study abroad programs received an email from International Programs (IP) March 23, announcing the cancellation of all programs due to the continued spread and concerns of COVID-19.
“The decision to cancel these programs was a difficult one,” Audra Pleasant, executive director of IP, said. “Students have been planning for and dreaming about these study abroad experiences all year … and we know how disappointing this decision is, especially in the midst of so many unexpected changes to the structure of the current spring semester.”
IP canceled all seven study abroad programs for the summer 2020 semester: Harding University in Greece, Harding University in Florence (HUF), Summer Undergraduate Research in Florence, Art & Design International (ADI), College of Business in London, College of Education in Scotland and Scholars Abroad.
Pleasant said IP referred to the U.S. Department of State and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) while making this decision. The State Department issued a level four global health advisory March 19, advising U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel. IP took this into account as well as the advice of CDC to cancel or postpone student international travel programs.
Sophomore Nick DeLaPeña had signed up to attend HUF this summer and said he was not surprised by the news.
“I was trying to be optimistic the whole time, but I knew sooner or later it would get canceled, so I was sad but not in shock when we received an email about the cancellation of the trip,” DeLaPeña said.
Like DeLaPeña, junior Keyton Hall was not shocked when IP canceled her trip with ADI. Hall said she had her suspicions the trips would be canceled, based on what is happening in the world with COVID-19, but she is keeping a positive outlook on the future.
“I’m trusting in God that this time this summer will be productive in a new way that I needed more,” Hall said.
Summer break, however, is sometimes the only way students can study abroad. Some students choose to study abroad in the summer because of scheduling conflicts during the regular fall and spring semesters, which was the case for DeLaPeña.
In the email sent to students enrolled in summer 2020 international programs, IP said students have the option to transfer to another study abroad program in fall 2020, spring 2021 or summer 2021. Students will receive full refunds to their student accounts for application fees and travel payments if they choose not to transfer.
Pleasant said IP’s focus is always to keep Harding students safe and healthy while they are abroad, but it has become even more of a priority since the outbreak of COVID-19.
“Student health and safety is a priority for us every day, and has become a primary focus during this pandemic,” Pleasant said. “In addition to risks directly to the health of students and faculty, we also consider freedom of movement created by sudden border closures and mandatory quarantines that can create major program disruptions and issues of safety. At this time, the risks are too high for us to proceed with planned programs for 2020.”
Despite the disappointment that students may feel, students can understand the importance of staying at home and staying positive during this time.
“I think it is important for us all to stay healthy and stay at home because we all have an opportunity to make an impact on someone else’s life right now,” Hall said. “We should try to think selflessly and about how contact with others will spread and potentially affect someone’s health.”