The Future of Off-Campus Study following COVID-19

Fiona Cohen, Assistant Features Editor

“I talked to my Spanish professor, and she said that it’s really up in the air at the moment, so we’ll just have to figure things out. Hopefully, by next year I’ll be able to travel.” 

These are the words of Maya Castiblanco ’23. With plans to be a psychology major and a Spanish minor, she had always considered going abroad during her junior year at Bates; however, the appearance of COVID-19 has called study abroad into question for many Bates students, including Castiblanco.

Castiblanco is not the only Bates sophomore concerned about their ability to go abroad next year. Jared Miranda-Ogaz ’23, a prospective Economics major and Japanese minor, shared similar thoughts. 

“I think it’s going to be a lot harder [to study abroad] than I first intended, because of the whole COVID thing. I feel like there are a lot of programs that are skeptical about letting kids in,” he said.

Despite sophomores’ concerns, the Bates Center for Global Education is trying to remain optimistic about the future, though it is uncertain. 

It might surprise students to know that seventeen Bates students are studying off-campus this semester. This number pales in comparison to the usual 130 to 150 students who study abroad each semester. Many students also anticipate going abroad next semester, however, the Center for Global Education does not know precisely how many students will be able to move forward with these plans.

The Bates Student spoke with Dean Darren Gallant, the associate dean for global education, to learn more about the future of off-campus study. 

“Bates has been supportive of students’ plans to pursue off-campus study,” said Dean Gallant. “We’ve been in conversation with these students since March about their plans and whether or not they’re going to go forward with or not.”

Many colleges across the country have decided to halt off-campus study. However, Bates felt confident enough in their ability to support students who chose to study off-campus this semester. 

Pandemic-related travel restrictions have also posed an issue for students who wished to study abroad during the fall. Towards the end of the summer, the European Union lifted some travel restrictions for students. As a result of this, some Bates students were able to go ahead with their plans to study in Europe.

In the meantime, the Center for Global Education is working diligently to ensure that students still consider studying off-campus next year. 

“Since February, our work has changed a lot, and we have really strong partnerships with the programs we work with and the institutions that we work with overseas,” said Dean Gallant. All of Bates’ partners have developed a protocol to guarantee that the study abroad process is safe and feasible for students.

These partner programs and institutions are still actively recruiting students from across the country. Of course, these processes look very different than it used to. Some programs have had financial difficulties, which has led to their inability to offer services to students. 

The Center for Global Education has been working to find programs that have developed proper safety criteria and are still offering future off-campus opportunities.

This year, in place of an in-person study abroad fair, the Center for Global Education will be hosting a virtual fair. The fair will be held on Sept. 30 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and requires prior registration to attend. Dean Gallant expressed his excitement for the upcoming event.

“We actually have more programs coming to our virtual fair than we ever had come to the in-person fair,” he said “It is going to be live advising with the programs and asynchronous opportunities.” 

The fair will be accessible for Bates students living on campus in Lewiston and students who are studying remotely.

The Center for Global Education will be holding programming during international education week, which takes place in November. There will be events hosted by the center as well as by faculty and students. These events will be about off-campus study, international research, post-graduate opportunities abroad, and more.

Dean Gallant mentioned that not as many students are coming into the office as usual. The Center for Global Education believes that this is reasonable, as students are still adjusting to a new way of life at Bates. They hope that the upcoming events generate more excitement for off-campus study. Happily, sophomores who have come in for advising are looking to proceed as usual, bearing in mind that things are changing all the time.

Despite Bates’ optimism, Dean Gallant notes that the practicality of off-campus study is always up in the air.

“Things can always change,” he said. “We’ve seen with this pandemic that it’s become very possible for decisions and announcements to happen overnight.” Nevertheless, he offers one crucial piece of advice to all students: “Engage with us. Consider off-campus study. Come meet with us.”