The impact of COVID-19 on Utica College’s Study Abroad program

Photo+courtesy+of+Stacy+Phelps

Photo courtesy of Stacy Phelps

Hannah Steyn, Assistant News Editor

While COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of life, one of the major changes has been that of travel. As a result, Utica College’s Study Abroad program has suffered greatly.

Stacy Phelps, the coordinator of international education, said despite 2020 having a normal start, the study abroad program quickly diminished as COVID-19 reached the U.S. Exchange students were sent home after spring break of 2020, and during the fall semester, the study abroad program was shut down entirely, with no students going abroad and no international students joining the UC community.

“Last semester, we weren’t able to accept any exchange students,” Phelps said. “We were supposed to have four students go abroad in the summer of 2020 and 10 in the fall of the same year, but they obviously couldn’t go either.”

Ben Eriksson, an Åbo Akademi student who was part of Utica College’s exchange program last spring, started his semester abroad with high hopes.

“I got settled in quickly and I had a perfect class schedule which made it feel like I was truly getting the whole package since I had time to travel to major cities and then also enjoy life on campus,” Eriksson said. “The classes felt interesting and I was impressed by how friendly and helpful my professors and classmates were. I had the feeling that I made the right choice in deciding to come to UC and I was having a blast.”

However, last March, Eriksson’s semester abroad quickly changed as COVID-19 sent students home for what was initially only meant to be an extra-long spring break.

“I remember getting the feeling that this is not going to end well,” Eriksson said, as he started to notice everyone was getting more nervous about the whole situation. “But even though I said out loud when discussing it with friends that we’re probably going to be sent home, I didn’t want to believe it myself since the whole situation felt as if it were too surreal to be true.”

Eriksson was upset at the effect COVID-19 had on his exchange semester.

“I was devastated about the whole situation and I still get that feeling of ‘what could’ve been’ even after a year back home,” Eriksson said. “I’m still very grateful for the time I got to spend at UC and that I could finish my classes online though.”

Phelps said the worst part about running the exchange program during a pandemic is the lack of control. She said she’s had to be flexible and warn students to be prepared for any outcome. This semester has been an improvement.

“We were very lucky to get three exchange students this semester,” Phelps said. “It’s also a very different exchange semester for them though because usually we do activities with them, but we are now very limited to what we can do.”

Sofia Westling, one of the three exchange students this spring, said that in spite of the restrictions that the pandemic has made necessary, she is still glad for the opportunity to be at Utica College.

“The memories I’ve been able to make with my friends here are invaluable and irreplaceable,” Westling said. “Even if COVID has affected my semester abroad, the memories at UC will be more memorable than any trip I’ve taken.”

Phelps is feeling optimistic that next semester will be better.

“Currently it looks like we’ll be getting a lot of exchange students in the fall, so we’re excited,” Phelps said. “We’re also planning on sending UC students abroad – to Australia, Egypt, Ireland, Scotland and Japan. Obviously, it’s all dependent on COVID, but we are optimistic.”