Students lament study-abroad opportunities lost to COVID-19

If the coronavirus pandemic never happened, Calvin junior Michal Rubingh would be living in Budapest right now. COVID-19 threw the study abroad plans of dozens of students into disarray. Calvin cancelled all international travel taking place this year because of the virus, a decision that left only the Chicago and Washington D.C. programs running. 

I was looking forward to spending a semester in Hungary, and I know this was a disappointment for many students,” Rubingh said. Other students affected by the change shared her sadness. “I’m deeply saddened by the change of plans,” said junior Alexa Fenchak, who wanted to take a 2021 interim trip. 

Even if Calvin’s administration had given the green light to studying abroad during the pandemic, the entry restrictions imposed by other countries would have made some other trips more difficult. For example, according to the U.S. Embassy in Hungary, a Calvin group traveling to Hungary this fall would have had to spend 14 days in isolation.

For sophomore Abigail Scorziello, the postponement of her semester in Spain posed some scheduling problems for completing her degree. “The cancellation of the semester abroad this year set me back a whole year in Spanish! I won’t be able to finish my Spanish major until senior year because there are certain classes that you take in Spain BEFORE you can take the rest of the upper level Spanish classes here at Calvin to finish the major,” said Scorziello. 

Another Spanish student, Stephanie Oosterhouse, might also have difficulties rescheduling her study-abroad experience. Oosterhouse was excited to travel to Honduras before the pandemic hit. Reflecting on the new reality, she said: “I hope to study abroad in Honduras a different semester but if the new timing doesn’t work with my four-year plan, I will probably be dropping my Spanish minor.”

For other Calvin students, rescheduling their trip to a future year may not be possible. Fenchak, who is a nursing major, set her hopes on interim because she couldn’t fit an entire semester abroad in her plans. “I have been planning to do my third (and final) interim abroad since freshman year,” she said. “I… may not be able to go on another interim abroad before I graduate.”

Yet, despite personal disappointment, students also expressed their support for the administration’s decision. “Even though I am disappointed, I think that Calvin made the right decision to cancel the semester,” Oosterhouse said. Her sentiment was echoed by Rubingh, who said that “postponing the [Hungary] program was the safe decision for this semester. I’m sure there would’ve been more difficult adjustments and barriers than normal if we were in Budapest during a pandemic—starting to learn a new language is probably 10 times harder through a mask.”

Disclaimer: The author of this article was part of the cohort scheduled to travel to Hungary in Fall of 2020.