“I was planning on going to Ecuador from early June to early July for a month-long internship,” says Grace Wesoly, 21, a senior majoring in multimedia storytelling with a concentration in journalism. “I was also supposed to go to Tokyo for the Olympics multimedia storytelling trip.”
Grace is not alone in her plans being foiled by Covid-19. Queens University has canceled the John Belk International Program, through which over one hundred and fifty students had enrolled to travel and study abroad.
In lieu of international travel, the Myrta Pulliam Center for International Education plans to implement Virtual International Experiences for students.
When asked about the virtual experiences, Sidra Freeman of the Murray Pulliam Center explained. “These programs give Queens students an opportunity to enhance their intercultural skills and global perspectives from anywhere, no passport or travel required.”
While all students have the opportunity to travel abroad, International Studies Majors are required to travel abroad to graduate. Because of this, JBIP funds are accessible for VIEs for eligible students who would not be able to meet their study abroad requirement before graduation.
“This is especially important for affected International Studies majors,” said Dr. Alexa Royden, the Political Science Department Chair, “who will need a substitute for their INS 350 Requirement.”
Throughout their four years, every Queens student has the option to travel abroad through the program, which the school funds for those who have completed four or more semesters (six for faculty-led programs).
Students have the option of independent study, such as a semester abroad or an internship, or through short-term faculty-led programs. Queens plans to keep the Virtual International Experiences after the pandemic.
Many, however, are disappointed by the missed opportunity to expand their horizons.
“I was expecting this summer to be life-changing and open a lot of doors for me,” Wesoly said. “I think it’s great that Queens is offering alternatives but I just can’t see how anything can match up to the original experience.”
For many students, this might be a missed opportunity they can’t get back. However, many are hoping that they will be able to get their promise of the full Queens experience and travel abroad next academic year.
“We are planning for JBIP travel to resume in the 2021-22 academic year,” Freeman said, “We will continue to monitor the situation with the COVID pandemic following the guidance of the CDC, The Department of State and conditions on the ground at the destination site.”
While it is undoubtedly sad for many students to lose such a vital part of the Queens experience, the University is choosing to prioritize the safety of its students.