As Cal State Fullerton students continue to adjust to a new virtual way of life, some had to give up their desires to study abroad as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage on throughout the world.
Joanna Che, a senior majoring in business administration with a minor in marketing, had enrolled in the seminar in strategic management capstone class for the summer semester, which was offered in a study abroad program in Tokyo and Seoul.
Having always wanted to study abroad, Che said she thought the opportunity she had in 2020 was meant to be, especially because of her interest in Japanese and Korean culture.
But as a result of COVID-19, that dream came to a sudden halt when Jack Hobson, senior director of the Global Titans Center, announced the suspension of all summer study abroad programs on March 18. On May 15, Hobson announced that all study abroad programs would be suspended through the 2021 winter session.
In late March, when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak overseas, the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs advised many study abroad students to return to the states. The department reasoned that students may face unpredictable circumstances or travel restrictions, in addition to inadequate healthcare.
At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided guidance to institutions of higher education, asking the institutions to consider postponing or canceling student travel programs.
Since the pandemic’s peak earlier in the year, most Asian countries had closed their borders to foreigners. Only recently have some countries, such as Japan, been careful in their selections of travelers and additionally require a 14-day quarantine.
Europe has also reinstated a travel ban on most Americans with some exceptions, which will continue indefinitely.
Hobson said that the decision was made very early on for summer and fall to ensure the protection of the students based on three filters: health, mobility and finances.
He added that the department is currently working on retrieving any refunds for students who did not receive any reimbursements from an institution overseas.
Che said that she was sad for the first two months and then had felt regret because she had not taken the opportunity to study abroad last fall.
Initially, Che applied and was accepted to the study abroad program in Korea for the fall semester in 2019, which included her required capstone class, but she decided to wait until the summer.
Her decision led to her dropping the class during the spring semester, which resulted in a delayed graduation and an extra $2,000 to take the class in the summer at CSUF.
“I was really looking forward to experiencing the world with a group of new people because I feel like I’ve been stuck in a bubble this whole entire time being at Cal State Fullerton,” Che said.
In place of the trip to Asia, Che’s class has been held online with Lorenzo Bizzi, associate professor of management and director of the Business Honors Program, who has taught study abroad for two years at CSUF.
Bizzi said in an email to the Daily Titan that the high levels of involvement, engagement and enthusiasm makes study abroad the most intense experience a student will have while they pursue their bachelor’s degree.
“There’s no point at making students memorize concepts they’ll forget. You need to change the way they think. You need to energize them towards business. The experience is so rich that when everyone comes back all they want to do is to become internationally successful managers,” Bizzi said. “To explore, to learn, to grow.”
He added that when students come back from abroad, they are eager to graduate and begin their careers because while doing the program, students learn what it means to be a successful international business person.
“Many that came back told me it was the best time they had in their entire life,” Bizzi said. “Some told me they are positive they will never in the future have something like this. It’s a one in a lifetime experience.”
Alex Diaz, a senior majoring in management, said he found himself in a similar situation as Che, except he had previously studied abroad with Bizzi in the winter before last in London, Paris and Rome.
Diaz said that even with the class session they would have on their trip, being able to explore with his best friend, his classmates and Bizzi is what made it so memorable.
“We would just constantly go out and have so much fun. We always had an amazing time,” Diaz said. “I got to become good friends with the rest of the other crew, and then we all started just going out and having fun together.”
Hobson said that much of the future of study abroad programs relies heavily on how the fall semester will play out in terms of COVID-19 and virtual instruction.
The department will also be evaluating the challenges that the new coronavirus will present in the future, and as more information is developed it will be easier to formulate those decisions in response, Hobson said.
He said that he knows that there is no substitute for the traditional study abroad experience, but the global engagement team, the group of people in the department that handles study abroad, is trying to give students a different type of experience.
“Students are still hungry and interested for those global experiences. So, we’re in the process of pivoting and launching a whole suite of virtual opportunities,” Hobson said.