AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - West Texas A&M recently announced all college-sponsored international travel program for the fall and spring semesters, including trips scheduled by the study abroad program, are suspended until further notice due to the ongoing pandemic.
In years prior, the university has had an average of 160 students travel to countries like Spain, China, and South Africa through the study abroad program and this year, the office was expecting to see an increase in participation.
However, since the pandemic began in the spring semester, WT has not conducted any study abroad trips.
“Everything was paralyzed and I think what’s most important to note is that no one really knew what to do because this had never happened in our lifetime,” said Anthony Spencer, director of Explore Study Abroad, a company based in Austin, Texas.
While the cancellation of the trips was devastating for the students, the director of the program says they agreed it was the best decision to keep everyone involved safe and healthy.
“So I know it was quite devastating for them. It was very sad to bring them the news but, I think most of them took it with a level of maturity, understanding that this is way beyond anybody’s control and we were doing what we were doing to support them and also to ensure that they were safe and not exposing themselves to any kind of risk," said Carolina Galloway, director of the study abroad program at WTAMU.
Daniela Estrada, a marketing student at WT, was supposed to study abroad in London this past spring, but her trip had to be canceled.
“So I really like to go to new places, new people, like to get to know the culture and know how the system is like, the academic system because they are really different. So that’s why I was really into going to London and trying a new place," said Estrada. “So it was kind of like frustrating and sad but you know, with the pandemic it was kind of hard to do it.”
Considering many students had already made partial payments for their trips, the university was forced to offer refunds.
“To the extent that it was possible, everything was refunded to students. As usual, there might have been a few that probably lost some [money], depending on their particular cases but, the university made every effort to refund everything to the students,” said Galloway.
For now, universities abroad will continue offering virtual study abroad programs that include interaction with international students as well as virtual tours of significant landmarks.
However, the university hopes to offer study abroad programs during the summer 2021 semester, and is already working with study abroad companies as well as schools overseas to plan the trips.
Galloway also said they will continue monitoring the progression of the pandemic and make changes as needed.
“Most of them we are hoping to offer in the summer of 2021 so we are working with professors and obviously with the students to see if those programs can happen in the next summer,” said Galloway.
While future study abroad programs will likely be different due to the pandemic, Spencer wants to assure students that their experience will be just as great.
“If I were a student right now, I would want somebody to tell me, ‘It will be okay, we will have study abroad programs again. We just have to do it when it’s safe'," said Spencer.