Study abroad programs cancelled due to COVID-19


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The summer immersion language programs School Year Abroad and CIEE cancelled their summer sessions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gabrielle Solymosy, Staff Writer

Four months ago, Elizabeth Schaefer expected to fly to Beijing for a five-week summer program to study Mandarin. Now, over a month into social distancing, just as airlines suspended flights to China, Schaefer has also suspended her plans. 

The summer immersion language programs School Year Abroad and CIEE cancelled their summer sessions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schaefer and fellow sophomores Eliot Aiman and Kate Willey planned on attending five-week programs abroad to increase their exposure to languages and cultures. 

In late January, CIEE announced their suspension of all summer programs in China, including the session to which Schaefer applied. Around a month ago, SYA notified Aiman and Willey about the program’s decision to cancel all summer programs for 2020 in Spain, France and China. 

“I was holding out hope that [COVID-19] would blow over, but I understand the gravity of the situation,” Schaefer said.  

All three students had looked forward to practicing language skills in preparation for next school year and AP language classes. For Willey, practicing speaking and fluency in France would have been a great opportunity to prepare for AP French her junior year. 

“It would’ve been nice to practice speaking and apply things previously learned in French classes,” Willey said. 

The programs offered not only focused classes for studying languages, but also cultural immersion experiences that included exploring cultures firsthand and connecting through a homestay with a local family. 

“I love cultures,” Aiman said. “[The cancellation is] definitely disappointing because I want to go to Spain and travel, but it is what it is.” 

When SYA notified Aiman of the program’s cancellation, she was not surprised. As the virus spread, she and her family anticipated that the Spain program would be cancelled for the safety of the students. 

“If the cancellation didn’t happen, I would have been uncomfortable going there because of the virus,” Aiman said. 

According to Willey, although she had been looking forward to the program, cancelling the summer sessions for SYA France was a good decision for the wellbeing and health of the students and faculty. Studying abroad runs in Willey’s familyher mother spent a year in France, her eldest brother studied for a year in Spain and her middle brother attended the summer program in France. 

“I was excited to finally get to go because I was hearing about it for such a long time,” Willey said. 

For Schaefer, not attending a summer intensive program in China affected her future course schedule. The summer program would have influenced how she will continue studying Mandarin beyond high school since CIEE offers college study abroad courses. 

“I was considering taking a gap year in China,” Schaefer said. “I wanted to see for a brief summer if it would be the right fit.”

In light of the cancellations, both SYA and CIEE made accommodations for students. SYA provided a full refund for the cancelled Spain program after Aiman submitted acceptance forms and deposits in February. After CIEE cancelled the Beijing program, they offered Schaefer the option to attend an alternative program in Taiwan, which eventually was also cancelled. 

“They reserved my spot for next year, so at least I have that option,” Schaefer said. “I really hope that it will be clear enough for me to travel.” 

While the students are uncertain of COVID-19’s impact, they remain positive about international summer programs for next year. Aiman planned to study in Spain before her junior year but will consider SYA for next summer. Willey also intends on applying for the program in France. 

In order to slow the spread of the virus, social distancing measures caused recent changes for the students’ overall summer plans, leaving them uncertain of their activities. 

“My summer is totally undecided at the moment,” Aiman said. “It will really depend on what happens in the next few weeks with the government and coronavirus.” 

Although she cannot study in France this summer, Willey plans on immersing herself in French television series, movies and music and practicing speaking skills with her godmother, who speaks fluent French.

“I was really disappointed that I couldn’t go this year, but I will definitely apply for next summer,” Willey said.