University cancels all J-Term study abroad trips for 2021

As the 2020-2021 academic year continues to challenge Augustana University students, faculty and staff through Zoom classes, physical distancing and quarantine requirements heading into the end of in-person classes, the university faces yet another setback on the horizon. 

This January, due to Augustana’s choice to cancel its study abroad opportunities, the university and its faculty aren’t offering a single abroad course, despite originally planning to offer or facilitate 17 courses as little as six month ago.

Following the trend of caution that has come as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 J-Term semester fell victim to the risks, logistics and safety and travel concerns many individuals and organizations have faced since the U.S. outbreak in March. 

“We made the decision to cancel study abroad for J-Term back in August,” said Ben Iverson, director of international programs and enrollment. “It became clear that conditions weren’t going to improve enough in the U.S. or in many other parts of the world in time for group travel to be done safely.”

Fearing the certain reality that travel abroad opportunities would compromise the safety of students and faculty as well as severely disrupt requirements for J-Term abroad course deposit requirements Joni Krueger, registrar and associate dean of interdisciplinary programs, urged faculty to consider alternatives. 

“We asked faculty planning to study away in January to come up with a local backup plan,” Krueger said. 

Whereas a typical Augustana J-Term semester would offer an abundance of travel opportunities for students and faculty, this year’s interim won’t. 

“In any given January term, we might have 12 to 15 AU faculty-led study abroad courses around the world,” Iverson said. “All are canceled this year. In practice, that means that 150 plus students won’t travel abroad this January, as they would have done during normal circumstances,” Iverson said.

Krueger, who recommended the cancellations in July, said it was a tough but necessary decision to make. 

“Of course it was difficult to tell students and faculty they could not study away, but most of the decision was out of the control of the Global Education Committee because of flights and the inability for travel from the U.S. to other countries,” she said. 

Michael Nitz, communication studies professor and coordinator of Norwegian programs, said that had study abroad courses not been canceled, he would’ve facilitated a course open to all students called “Viking Sagas: 500+ Years of Religion and Communication in Norway.” 

“I confess to a certain admission that we might have canceled it too early, but in hindsight, it obviously was the correct decision,” Nitz said.

With regard to the tough decision that university administrators faced in handling J-Term abroad opportunities, Iverson pointed to U.S. agencies’ recommendations at the time. 

“We evaluated U.S. State Department travel information, recommendations from the CDC, WHO, third-party travel providers, etc.,” Iverson said. “Many other people were involved in making the decision, including the faculty that serve on the Global Education and Off-Campus Committee, the provost, our insurance company and business office and others.” 

Although Nitz looked forward to traveling to Norway with as many as 60 students for 17 days, he doesn’t feel as though the cancelation of study abroad opportunities caused great detriment to university faculty. 

“I do not feel any of us were revoked of our ability to teach abroad,” Nitz said. “This was a decision made by others as well — Norway does not allow U.S. citizens to visit currently,” he said. He added that the U.S. State Department continues to issue travel warnings.

Augustana’s 2021 J-Term abroad courses are a sad tale of what could have been. Among the more than 15 canceled courses includes professor K.C. Carlson’s “Anthropology of the Southwest,” professor Karla Abbott’s “Leadership in Professional Nursing in Norway” and professor Patricia Waltman’s “Leadership in Professional Nursing in Ecuador,” and professor Craig Spencer and professor Cory Conover’s “Tropical Ecology of Guatemala and Belize.”

“We regret, of course, that the cancelation means that some students will not be able to travel abroad during their time at AU,” Iverson said. 

Instead of mulling over the loss of the courses this year, Iverson is looking ahead to next year’s interim.

“January 2022 could be a banner year,” Iverson said. “We are anticipating some pent-up demand when opportunities to study abroad again reopen.”

As many Augustana administrators and faculty look to next year with confidence and hope for a return to as well as a revitalization of study abroad programs, so too does Nitz. 

“I am always trying to be optimistic,” Nitz said. “January 2022 has a great slate of courses in a variety of places. I am hoping pent-up demand will fill all these plus more.”

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