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Penn Abroad expects to have a definitive decision on whether fall study abroad programs will continue within the next few weeks.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

As universities around the world struggle to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, Penn Abroad has not yet made a final decision on whether Penn students will be able to study abroad in the fall.

Two weeks ago, students who applied to study abroad during the upcoming fall semester received an email from Penn Abroad advising them to participate in course registration for the fall semester and consider deferring their study abroad to another semester.

But Penn Abroad has not yet made an official decision regarding fall study abroad programs, according to Penn Abroad Director Nigel Cossar. 

Cossar said he and his colleagues are monitoring global travel and health restrictions as well as updates from the U.S. government, and are in contact with University leadership and other Ivy League institutions. Cossar said they expect to have a definitive decision on whether programs will continue within the next few weeks. 

“Even if we wanted to keep a program running, we are going to be bound by government restrictions,” Cossar said. 

Cossar said Penn Abroad anticipates there will be travel restrictions that affect fall semester study abroad programs. Multiple countries have implemented restrictions on incoming travelers from the United States. Due to the high number of coronavirus cases in the U.S., Cossar is concerned about the duration of travel restrictions for Americans. 

“Because the U.S. has the highest number of cases globally, many countries are going to impose travel restrictions on travelers from the U.S., possibly for some time,” Cossar said. “We want to get a better sense of what that means, but I think a lot more will become clear in the coming weeks.”

According to Cossar, six study abroad programs for the fall through the Council on International Educational Exchange, an organization that arranges study abroad programs for Penn and other universities, have already been canceled. These programs were located in Dakar, Senegal, Iringa,Tanzania, Kohn Kaen, Thailand, Tapei,Taiwan, Rio de Janeiro,  and Moscow.

These programs had a low enrollment rate, according to Cossar, and more popular programs through CIEE, like the program in Cape Town, remain unaffected. 

Karen Pan, a College sophomore who plans to study at the Pembroke College of the University of Cambridge this fall, understands Penn Abroad’s caution, but is disheartened. She said studying abroad during the fall semester of her junior year was her best option academically, and she does not know if she would be able to go abroad at any other semester during her time at Penn.

“Every applicant has put so much work into their application [and] thought a lot about each semester and which semester they felt was right for them,” Pan said. “You kind of have to wonder, are these programs still going to happen, and would I still want to do these if it was going to interfere with my senior year?”

Other students are similarly concerned about deferring their study abroad. Engineering sophomore Caitlyn McCloskey, who is scheduled to study abroad at University College London, is hesitant to miss her junior spring semester, especially after this year's spring semester was cut short due to the virus, and may not study abroad at all.

“I’m still up in the air about it, because obviously study abroad is an awesome opportunity,” McCloskey said. “I would love to do it, but I don’t really want to miss another spring [semester], and I don’t want to go abroad my senior year."

College sophomore Artivia Tahir thinks the cancellation of fall study abroad programs is inevitable. Tahir is scheduled to study abroad at Queen Mary University of London next semester, and received an email on April 1 from Penn Abroad Global Programs Manager Jacob Gross saying that they will likely have a decision on abroad programs' status by the end of this week.

"I feel like if they're making a decision now, it's probably going to be canceled," Tahir said. "They wouldn't be making a final decision in April for a program in September unless it was going to be no."

Despite concerns about her program's possible cancellation, College sophomore Aish Balaji, who is supposed to study abroad at the University of Sydney in the fall, appreciates Penn Abroad's transparency, and that it is trying to prepare students for possible cancellations. 

“Even if they don’t have a firm decision, I’m really glad that they are telling us when we can find out about a decision, or what they’re doing and what’s holding up on their end,” Balaji said.

Cossar said Penn Abroad is working as best they can to ensure students are able to make an informed decision about their fall semester.

“We want to make sure that no students are left in the lurch, that they have an appropriate set of courses available to do at Penn in the fall, should their program get canceled, or should there be other changes to the study abroad program, or should they not want to go anymore,” Cossar said.