While faculty and staff deliberate on various contingency plans for the upcoming semester, many students are also waiting on word from their study abroad programs. Rising juniors who planned to study away are uncertain whether fall semester and year-long programs will commence in person, proceed with an alternative learning environment or be cancelled outright.
Allyse Pratt ’22 is planning to study abroad in Madrid for the entire academic year through a program run by Hamilton College. At the moment, the program intends to continue as planned, but with the academic calendar shifted later by one week.
“They have said they’ll state their final decision at the end of May as to whether they’re planning to cancel the program or not,” Pratt said.
Since the program primarily focuses on Spanish language immersion, Pratt said she would not want to participate in online versions of classes, though the program has not yet announced remote learning as a possibility.
“For me, a big part of the immersion experience is spending time not just speaking the language, but with the people and the culture — living with a host family, attending community events, participating in cultural activities and traditions,” Pratt said. “Without this human interaction, I feel as though the experience is diminished in such a way that it wouldn’t be worth putting forward the money to participate in the program.”
Pratt also mentioned her own unreliable internet connection at home, which would make the human interaction necessary for language acquisition even more difficult.
She expressed hope that she would still be able to go to Spain in the spring semester if the fall term is canceled, or that she would be able to go abroad during her senior fall.
“Studying abroad has been something I’ve looked forward to ever since I started learning languages, and a cancellation would take a toll on my hopes for the upcoming year,” Pratt said.
Hal Olson ’22 hopes to attend a different study abroad program for language immersion in the fall semester located in Beijing. The program is run through the Middlebury School in China, and their status for the fall “is going to be decided upon roughly at the same time that Williams decides whether or not we’re going to have classes online,” Olson said.
Apart from Beijing, the school also has sites in Kunming and Hangzhou. The fall semester possibilities raised by the Middlebury School so far include running the program at all three locations as originally planned, cancelling the program entirely or consolidating some of the locations. While Olson selected Beijing for his program, he said he would definitely go to one of the other two cities if that were the only option. “For me, the city is kind of secondary,” Olson said. “Language acquisition is my primary goal.”
In Beijing, Olson would take classes in a variety of areas, “but they’ve all been constructed with the goal of helping you attain some level of vocabulary or fluency in regards to that topic,” he added. His top choices include drama, contemporary literature, classical Chinese and contemporary politics.
In the event that the program is cancelled, “The Williams Study Abroad Office has told us to go ahead and register for Williams classes and sign up for Williams housing in case we have to,” Olson said. The Middlebury program did not require students to pay a deposit this year, unlike under normal circumstances.
Olson emphasized the importance of the surrounding environment for language acquisition abroad. “They didn’t mention an online option,” he said. “If there was, I would not participate in it because it wouldn’t be worth my time.”
Gaurnett Flowers ’22 expressed similar sentiments regarding the idea of a remote study abroad. “I feel like if it’s online then it just defeats the purpose of studying abroad,” Flowers said. “I’d still get the courses that I want, but I don’t know if I’ll be as engaged.” He applied to study away at Columbia University in New York during the fall semester, and the program intends to make a decision toward the end of June about whether to open in the fall.
He said his goal in studying away at Columbia for a semester was to take classes that weren’t offered at the College, but he also hoped to study outside the United States in Budapest, Hungary in the spring. Spring semester study abroad programs have not yet made any announcements, as their student application processes do not occur until the fall.
For students in year-long programs, however, the prospect of a fall cancellation does not necessarily mean the end of their study abroad plans. Sophia Clement ’22 is currently enrolled in the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford (WEPO) for next year.
“So far, they’ve said that they’re preparing that it’ll be going on in the fall,” Clement said. “They’ve sent us all the forms that we need to fill out… I’ve spent the last week filling out everything and picking classes,” she said.
WEPO operates on a trimester system beginning in early October. Though Clement said WEPO has not mentioned online fall classes, she assumes remote classes are a possibility. “Because it’s the whole year, you could probably start out online,” she said. “It’s still a really cool opportunity, and if we can still go in the spring, I don’t mind doing half of it online and half of it in real life.”
Clement said she hopes she will still have the opportunity to go to England next year, even if it doesn’t happen in the fall. “That’s what I’m hoping for, and we’ll see what happens.”