Off-campus studying and COVID-19

Elise Wennberg– Staff Writer

On August 15th, Dordt senior Yage Wang arrived at Incheon airport in South Korea while the country operated under “level two” social distancing regulations. 

Before she could get off the plane, her and the other passengers had to fill out documents for personal information tracking, asking where the traveler planned on staying while quarantined and the purpose of their stay. 

Passengers were also required to download an app that tracked their location and had them each report a daily temperature check for 14 days. 

As of early October, South Korea has moved to “level one,” meaning that Yage is free to travel if she socially distances and wears a mask at all times. Although her study abroad experience is quite different from past years, Yage says she is still having a wonderful experience.

According to Rebecca Tervo, coordinator of off-campus and multicultural student programs, the usual number of students who study off-campus averages of 20-25 for the fall semester. However, this semester there are only five students. Of this number only one is studying out of the country and the other four are in Chicago. 

“Our numbers are definitely lower because a lot of programs have been cancelled.” Tervo said. 

Tervo’s current records list twelve Dordt students currently planning on studying off-campus this coming spring semester, a drop from the usual 30-40 students.

In order to provide for safe travel, Dordt makes sure programs the students are sent on have a plan for COVID-19. Before allowing for students to begin their study abroad semester, the abroad program is asked to send their program plan and that of their partner university. 

Dordt’s policy for students studying off-campus during COVID-19 boils down to two basic questions: does the program have a plan to deal with COVID-19, and is the student willing to take the risks of traveling to a place they are not familiar with? 

If the student decides to continue through with studying off-campus, they are required to sign a waiver stating the student is willing to risk exposure of COVID-19 during their travels.

The other fear that COVID-19 has brought is the uncertainty. There is the possibility the program will be canceled part-way due to complications from the pandemic. 

“One of our programs said they will have a decision by November,” Tervo said, “but students want to have their plans in place, so we’ve had some student who were planning to study abroad switch to a U.S. domestic program because it’s more certain.”

When the pandemic first started to appear, Tervo and other staff members had to assess each student’s situation individually and decide if it would be safer for the student to come home right away or to wait a while before having them come back. 

“Last semester was even more strange because we had students coming home early from programs,” Tervo said. “We needed to make sure students got home safely, that they could finish their course work either online through the program or having to figure it out with Dordt.” 

Last year all of the students off-campus had to leave their program early, most coming home in March and April, but some as early as February. Most students did a half semester, then had to complete their year back in the states. A few students who had planned to study in South Korea did not even make it to the school’s campus before needing to head back to America.

As programs are cancelled students find themselves having a difficult time adjusting their schedules to either stay at Dordt or deciding to go through other programs.

As of late, the Chicago and Denver programs are the only two domestic options that have not been canceled. 

Within all the chaos that COVID-19 has brought, Tervo is pleasantly surprised about the number of high schoolers who have expressed interest in studying off-campus. 

“I’m happy to see that COVID hasn’t effected student’s willingness to consider travel off-campus.”

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