On March 17, Western’s Education Abroad office canceled all study abroad trips for spring quarter. A few weeks later, they canceled all summer trips.
According to Western’s Director of Communications Paul Cocke, the decision to cancel spring and summer travel abroad came in light of the State Department releasing a level four health travel advisory. The travel advisory instructs U.S. citizens who are abroad to return to the states, and instructs all U.S. citizens to avoid international travel.
“The university cannot secure international health insurance for its students while the U.S. State Department has a level four travel advisory in effect,” Cocke said. “Western is not alone in this decision. Every state university in Washington has canceled study abroad through the end of summer, as well as most other universities and international travel organizations.”
The university’s decision to cancel study abroad in the wake of the virus was not much of a surprise, Western student Jessie Pachuta said.
“As soon as corona began to show up heavily in the news I had a feeling my trip would be canceled. Once it reached Washington in March, I knew it was over,” Pachuta said.
Pachuta is a third-year Western student studying biology. She wants to graduate with a focus on bio-cultural studies, the study of biology from an anthropological perspective, and work with primates, having been inspired by the likes of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey in high school.
Pachuta was set to go on a study abroad trip in July that would have taken her to the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in Kenya for three months.
The program would have given Pachuta hands-on field experience working with animals, as well as credits necessary for her major. The cancellation not only robbed Pachuta of the valuable field experience she needed to apply for an internship, it has the potential to delay Pachuta’s graduation.
“I was banking on this program to give me the field experience I need to get the internship I want in the fall,” Pachuta said. “My program requires an internship working directly with animals.”
She says that the internship is pretty much a necessity.
“Most places want people with experience, you know. Also I was registered for six credits through this program and I’m going to have to squeeze those in somewhere if I want to graduate on time next year,” Pachuta said.
The university has taken action to try and accommodate students who had planned study abroad trips. According to Western’s Education Abroad Program Director Dr. Ryan Larson, the university has decided to refund application deposits as well as give students who were scheduled to go on their trips an opportunity to go next year.
“Everywhere possible, we have tried to defer students’ study abroad applications to next year, if the student isn’t graduating before then,” Larson said. “For outright cancellations, we’ve refunded students their deposits. If the student wasn’t paying Western for their study abroad experience, and instead paid deposits to a study abroad provider organization or host university, I’m observing that most of them are being generous about refunds because of the circumstances.”
Even with the university taking measures to accommodate affected students, many are expected to miss out on their only opportunity to study abroad while in college. Pachuta said that even so, it’s not going to stop her from traveling. This setback is just “pushing the goal post back a bit.”
“It’s a huge disappointment for sure, but it’s not going to stop me from doing what I want to do in life,” Pachuta said. “I graduate in a year and with some luck and hard work I can get into a work abroad gig through the same program that I was going to do my Kenya trip through.”