Canceled study abroad trips affect student plans

With Fall 2020 study abroad trips suspended due to the pandemic, many students are left to find last minute housing. (Daily Trojan file photo)

Rising junior Kwayera Burrows knew she wanted to study abroad before she was accepted into USC. During her freshman year as a mechanical engineering major with a heavy course load, she was unsure if she would be able to do so and still graduate in four years. Under the guidance of a new adviser her sophomore year, Burrows made plans to attend the University of Botswana in Fall 2020 to participate in community service with local nongovernmental organizations. 

“I was really excited about spending a semester abroad, and I’m especially interested in community service — the place where I was going, they have a lot of NGOs,” Burrows said. “I was just overall excited for a new experience, getting new perspectives, traveling the world more.”

With uncertainty surrounding international travel and the resumption of in-person fall classes, USC extended the suspension of its study abroad programs through Fall 2020 May 11. Students were given the option to defer their semester abroad and were assured their academic continuity would not be affected. The decision followed the Office of Overseas Studies’ announcement via email April 20 that all programs beginning before Aug. 15 would be canceled due to the ongoing pandemic. 

“We have made this difficult decision based on health and safety concerns and the high degree of uncertainty associated with international travel and host country measures,” the email read.  

Though Burrows was given the option to defer study abroad to Spring 2021 or move to a program that started after Aug. 15, she no longer believes she would be able to fit a semester abroad into her academic schedule. 

“It’s just a difficult situation because it’s not like there’s anything that could have made it better, but it also just feels a little bit unfair that I had this one semester that I was able to study abroad, and then that’s the one semester that it got canceled,” Burrows said.

Andrea Rodriguez, a rising junior majoring in neuroscience who planned to study in New Zealand at the University of Auckland during the fall semester starting in July, believes the decision should have been relayed sooner. Rodriguez has been left to search for housing for the upcoming semester. 

“When I found out that we weren’t studying abroad anymore, I was very, very sad,” Rodriguez said. “Now I have so many other worries on top of me, like housing, like what am I going to do next year? — as opposed to the worries I already had where it’s finals season, classes are online, you’re dealing with [the] pandemic … [it’s] just so overwhelming to me.”

Rodriguez had also reached out to a professor in the neuroscience department at the University of Auckland to conduct research before she received the email from USC on her study abroad program cancellation. Like Burrows, Rodriguez is no longer able to fit study abroad in her schedule due to her prerequisites as a pre-health student. 

“The opportunity to possibly do research there was also going to work out with me really well because [the research] was also in the neuroscience department, which is what I’m majoring in at USC,” Rodriguez said. “I do have a research job at the Keck School [of Medicine], but it would be a totally different situation if I were able to do that.”

Because Burrows suspected study abroad would be suspended, she said she prepared by registering for fall semester classes. However, she had not applied for on- or off-campus housing and is unsure how she should proceed with uncertainty surrounding the status of fall classes. Faced with similar housing predicaments, Rodriguez has been searching for available leases with Burrows. 

“I wasn’t really worried about housing at all, but now I have to figure that out,” Burrows said. “But also I don’t even know if we are going to be on campus in the fall, so should I try to get housing?”

Regarding accommodations for students who were scheduled to study abroad in the fall, USC Housing Director Chris Ponsiglione said in an email to the Daily Trojan that students will still be allowed to register for University housing. This arrangement also applies to other students who had not planned to study abroad. 

“Students can still apply for USC Housing if they have not already. However, assignments are not guaranteed and currently on hold until the university formalizes plans for the fall semester,” the email read.

Rising senior Ankit Shah is enrolled in the World Bachelor in Business program, which relies on study abroad. Students in the Marshall School of Business program spend their first year at USC, second year at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, third year at Università Bocconi in Milan and fourth year at one of the three locations of their choosing to conclude their degree program. 

Shah originally planned to return to USC for his last year but recently decided to study in Hong Kong where classes are being held in person. With hybrid or online classes being a possibility at USC, Shah said he prefers an in-person experience.  

“At the end of the day, the city of L.A. is really what’s pulling me back or really is what drives me toward USC,” Shah said. “L.A. is still probably going to be pretty unsafe, no matter how much USC says ’We’re going to do a hybrid model’ … It just wasn’t enough for me, especially when you start factoring in the amount of money that I’d have to pay.”

Shah was able to switch his decision from USC to HKUST but now has to find housing in Hong Kong and cancel the lease he had already signed in Los Angeles.

Although this was not the senior year he had originally planned, Shah said he had always wanted to return to Hong Kong and is trying to make the best of the situation.

“At the end of the day, I think my overall takeaway from all this was you can be sad about it, and you can complain and reminisce,” Shah said. “Or you could just face reality and find the positive in it.”