BRAYDEN CARLSON, TRUMPET GUEST WRITER
Studying abroad has taken a hit due to the pandemic, with many students unable or limited to travel.
“What I have told students since all of 2020 is that going forward, we need a mindset of cautious optimism,” said Kathleen Sihler. “We now need to always have a Plan A and a Plan B.”
Sihler is the study away coordinator at Wartburg College.
Students now can choose a domestic, on campus or a single-country trip.
With COVID-19 restrictions on study abroad programs and travel, May Term classes have been under consideration.
With vaccines this year, there was an increased confidence that Wartburg students would be able to experience travel during May Term.
“Ever since COVID, navigating the health, safety and risk management of any international travel has been a challenge,” said Sihler. “With the arrival of vaccinations, we were more encouraged that international travel could happen that year. The delta variant changed that confidence.”
College leadership and cabinet met in early September. They reviewed the development and danger of the delta variant.
They leaders felt that May Term courses that would travel to multiple countries had too many risks with the many changing variables. In particular, the changing of entry policies, required testing, quarantines, and openness of various country’s borders. These things were determined as impossible to control.
Consultations with domestic and international student committees have been going on.
It was determined that if a May Term program was in a single country and had a home base (a central location of housing and study) and a professional provider that assisted with operations of the course, as well as if COVID statistics were trending in a healthy direction, that a trip could proceed most likely.
“It is not what we would like to have happened, but it is about confidence in students’ safety and academic experiences,” said Sihler.
The changes and loss of specific May Term traveling courses most likely impact students who would be graduating this year. Some have been planning their trips since they first arrived on campus. Others have been planning the trip as a requirement for their degree. Interdisciplinary Studies (I.D.) courses that have been canceled leave some students in a challenging position due to needing that requirement filled to graduate.
“The institution is aware of that and has a duty of care to take consideration of the safety and health of the students within international travel,” Sihler said. “These decisions are not taken lightly, and the situation continues to evolve and makes it a challenging process to navigate.”
As for the future of the traveling May Term classes for this year and into next year, there is not enough information to know what will happen next.
“It is too soon for us to take a discouraged route. We can continue with cautious optimism,” said Sihler. “The fact that some of our May Term courses can already travel gives me optimism.”
Mike Bechtel, an assistance professor of science education, oversees a May Term class to Peru. Bechtel has taken a positive outlook on the college’s decisions.
“Even if my Amazonian travel course would have been canceled,” said Bechtel, “I would not want a faculty member to lead a trip without the college, the administration, and the nation supporting the adventure.”
Bechtel has been open with not only his students but the board as well, discussing that their chances of travel would be slim due to the surge of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
“If our college did not seriously weigh in at multiple levels about the health and safety of our students (and the communities we visit),’’ said Bechtel, “I would question its integrity and calling. The alternative would be a dismal Dumpster fire. I know the action of canceling travel courses was not taken lightly by anyone involved.”
The ability for the Peru May-term class to travel did not come without a lot of work, however.
Bechtel is excited to take the students who have been working with him in meeting the requirements to travel and would like to extend that offer to anyone else who would like to travel for their May Term.
“I hope anyone out there that wants to experience some hands-on citizen science research — piranha fishing, nighttime herping, morning birding, and cultural immersion — signs up for the last available seats,” Bechtel said.
Sihler is available to talk about any study abroad opportunities. She can be reached in the Whitehouse Business Center 118 or at kathleen.sihler@wartburg. edu.