For many students, junior year presents an opportunity to switch up the rhythm of the standard school year by spending a semester studying abroad. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, many students have decided not to study abroad in the fall, citing health and safety concerns, worries about future restrictions on travel, and the desire to be on campus in the fall now that the spring semester has been cut short.
Junior Kalli Jackson planned to study abroad in Amsterdam through a program with the Council for International Educational Exchange (CIEE) but rescinded her application about three weeks into Wesleyan’s transition to online learning because of growing concerns about the global impact of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“My internship had been cancelled, and I was seeing this death rate go up more and more everyday, and I realized this was a much bigger issue than I thought and would definitely not be resolved by August when I wanted to go,” Jackson said. “I also figured that even if the U.S. got it under control by the summer, I definitely didn’t want to be one of the first people on a plane to another country.”
Anna Marti ’22, who was planning on studying at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, said she was also worried about being in a different country in the fall, given the likelihood that COVID-19 will still be an issue at that time.
“I decided to defer because everything is super uncertain right now, and I didn’t want to [take the] chance of being so far from my family [and] home if something were to happen—resurgence, I got sick, they got sick, etc.,” Marti explained.
Marti added that she will likely not plan to study abroad in the spring because of the on-campus activities, such as her dance group Precision Ensemble’s show and the Power of Language Conference that she missed out on this semester.
“I love being at Wesleyan and the life I have built there,” Marti said. “Our abrupt time away has made me realize that I do not want to spend any more time away from it. I can try to travel another time in my life, but this is the only time I [have] to be at Wes and I want to take advantage of and be present for all of it.”
Jackson and Marti are only two of the many students that made the difficult decision to defer their study abroad plans for the fall and for the future. According to Associate Director of Study Abroad Emily Gorlewski, of the approximately 215 students who were initially slated to study abroad this fall, only 90 have stood by their original plans.
Gorlewski said that the Office of Study Abroad is keeping a close eye on the coronavirus situation, both at home and abroad.
“We are still in a wait-and-see mode about fall and spring, but monitoring things very closely,” Gorlewski wrote in an email to The Argus. “It may be that we modify some programming for fall; some program providers have already done this. For spring, we just have no way to know yet, but are still planning as though everything will proceed as usual. In any case, intercultural learning is still of utmost importance to a liberal arts education, even if study abroad is not happening. We are committed to fostering this learning in any way we can.”
Gorlewski also noted that many students cancelled abroad plans due to concerns about not being able to participate in the housing process if their program were cancelled last minute. Julian DeMann ’22, who hoped to study abroad in Capetown, South Africa, through CIEE, was one of these students.
“The short answer is that I deferred because of the virus,” DeMann said. “The long answer is that I deferred because of the opportunity cost of studying abroad. Wesleyan, understandably so, did not let SA [study abroad] students register for Fall 2020 housing. Considering the very high probability that my program, which is set to begin July 1st, will be canceled, I thought it would be more prudent to defer for a shot at grade-appropriate housing.”
As the housing selection process begins, though, it has become apparent that a shot at grade-appropriate housing is no longer a guarantee for juniors, as it has been in past years. With approximately 125 extra juniors now vying spots in junior village, the Office of Residential Life (ResLife) said that they foresee some necessary adjustments to usual housing arrangements.
“The impact of the additional juniors coming back for the Fall semester will likely mean that less rising-sophomores are able to select single occupancy rooms, and depending on the incoming class size, there may be additional triples utilized for the incoming freshman class,” Assistant Director of Residential Life Kieran Duffy wrote in an email to The Argus.
ResLife provided more specific information on the housing shortage in an email sent on Thursday, April 23, to the rising juniors who are participating in the housing lottery.
“The shortages mentioned mean there are that 25 more junior groups of four than there are Low Rise apartments, and 34 more groups of two than there are High Rise apartments,” the email read. “In the past, four person groups could split to take High Rise apartments, but this will not be possible this year, due to the larger number of juniors that will be on campus this fall.”
Students who missed the cutoff for a Low Rise or a High Rise based on their randomly assigned housing selection number have been asked to reconfigure into groups of 5 or 6, in order to be assigned to a Fauver Apartment or a woodframe house. Once these are filled, excess juniors will have to live in program houses or residence halls.
Duffy explained that having an excess of students is not an entirely new problem for the ResLife office.
“We have had larger class sizes in the past come in that have informed decision making around available housing stock, tripling rooms, prioritizing renovation/construction to bring buildings back online as needed,” Duffy wrote.
As always, Wesleyan will guarantee on-campus housing for all students, which Michael Roth confirmed at the WSA meeting on April 19. Still, the questions of whether or not returning to campus in the fall will be safe and whether the 90 students still hoping to go abroad will be able to travel remain unknown.
Jane Herz contributed reporting.
Emma Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.