Although students are still waiting to hear about the future of fall study abroad programs — and of the fall semester on campus — Penn's fall Global Seminars are planning to operate as normal.
Penn Abroad Director Nigel Cossar said the department is planning for students to return to campus this fall until told otherwise, and is currently working closely with faculty to plan the global seminars, including the travel portion that will take place over winter break. Penn Abroad will monitor the pandemic and international travel policies in the coming months, but Cossar is optimistic that by winter break, travel restrictions will be less severe and students should be able to safely leave the country.
“I think particularly over the summer, a lot more is going to be known, that countries are going to be reopening, and what potential border restrictions may or may not look like,” Cossar said. “We’re obviously going to be keeping a close eye on that, with a view that we’re really hopeful that things will be returning to normal, whatever normal will look like.”
First launched in 2015, Penn Global Seminars are semester-long courses with a brief travel component over winter, spring, or summer break. There are four Penn Global Seminars being offered for the fall semester that will travel to Taiwan, Japan, Chile, and the Galapagos Islands.
Despite their optimism, Penn Abroad is still discussing contingency plans should the fall semester be held online or global travel restrictions remain in place by winter break. Cossar said they will do their best to make the courses meaningful despite potential challenges due to to the coronavirus, such as having students connect virtually with other student groups, partner universities, or community organizations in their host countries.
Cossar also said that despite the coronavirus, Penn Abroad is still following a typical timeline in terms of planning for the global seminar courses.
“This time last year, we were building out the fall of 2019 courses that traveled this past winter break,” Cossar said.
But concern that the fall semester will held virtually has stopped some students from enrolling in the Global Seminars anyway.
While there has been speculation and concern the fall semester would be entirely online, the University has not yet made a decision. According to a recent University-wide email from Penn President Amy Gutmann, Penn is currently considering a combination of in-person and virtual learning this fall, depending on how the coronavirus pandemic evolves.
College first-year Tseion Mebratu considered applying for PGS 022: "Exploring Traditional Chinese Medicine,” where students travel to Taipei, Taiwan, but decided not to do sue because of the uncertainty of the fall semester.
“I feel like the chances of fall being online are pretty high already,” Mebratu said. “And on top of that, people keep speculating that the virus may come back in the winter.”
College first-year Sienna Robinson applied to PGS 020: "Laboratory of Evolution: The History, Philosophy, and Science of Evolution in the Galapagos." Even though she is concerned about a potential virtual fall semester, Robinson is willing to take the class online if students can still travel over winter break.
College first-year Megan Shelton also ultimately applied to study in the Galapagos Islands, but remains wary about her decision. Although she thinks the course would be a unique experience, she would be disappointed if the trip were cancelled.
“One of my bigger concerns was, [and] there’s nothing they can really do about it, but the fact you’d have to make your decision about whether you want to take the course or not before they release information about the details of the course, and whether there will be a travel component or not,” Shelton said.
Cossar does not have a definite answer on whether students can travel over winter break if fall courses are online. But for now, Penn Abroad is expecting the travel portion to remain unaffected.
“We want to make sure and give every opportunity for the actual course to still have a travel component,” Cossar said. “We’re passionate about these courses, and will do everything in our power to ensure that as many students as possible can access these courses in the way they were originally intended to be accessed.”
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