While this academic year has ended, students’ worries still linger, especially those who plan on studying abroad. The process of applying to study abroad is confusing and frustrating enough as it is already without the added pressures of having to find somewhere to live, acquiring part time jobs and visas; factor in whether or not it will even go ahead at all and you can imagine the utter distress and disappointment potential study abroad students are feeling over the last couple of months. Although an announcement from Trinity is imminent, the long wait for an answer has amplified students’ anxiety.
For some students, studying abroad is a bonus to their college experience; a year of travel and meeting new people with a CV boost sprinkled on top. But for many, studying abroad is a compulsory element of their course. Many courses within Trinity incorporate mandatory requirements of studying abroad, from languages and languages combined with law, computer science, or business to joint honours degrees in Trinity and Columbia Dual BA, which is primarily marketed as being a degree you can study in two universities and two countries. Students who have spent two years studying in Trinity are now due to take up their studies in New York, the epicentre of the COVID-19 crisis in America, where it is even more unlikely that the severity of the crisis will subside by even the second semester of the forthcoming academic year.
Being immersed in an environment surrounded by people who speak the language you’re studying and taking for your university degree is unique and necessary to the study abroad experience; in no way can it be replaced with online learning, as much as some universities and courses can try to innovate and initiate. While building language skills is integral to studying abroad and Erasmus exchanges particularly, many students are grieving the opportunity to experience life in a different way; perhaps for some this could be living away from home for the first time or for others it could be getting immersed in different cultures and travelling to new places nearby.
What’s left for study abroad students is an existential crisis of sorts. Many students will have already chosen what modules they want to study at their host university next year. There remains ambiguity if study abroad and Erasmus is cancelled, whether students would take classes from the host university online, which would have to carefully factor in all the different time zones, or if students should attend lectures at their home university instead. If the latter should happen, students are left wondering what modules can replace the ones that they were meant to take abroad and the sense of a defeated purpose in making study abroad ordinarily mandatory.
The slow wait for an answer from College has left students due to take a place in a university abroad turning these questions over in their minds. College needs to be considerate of students, in this instance and in the future, for whom the wait for an email is the wait for an answer on the shape of their academic and personal life. There’s no telling when Covid-19 will substantially subside but Trinity owes it to their students to take a stance that serves justice to language-based degrees while also keeping the health and safety of students at the top of their list, and to communicate that stance with more efficiency than what we have seen.