Yale Daily News

Over winter recess, Yale’s Center for International and Professional Experience, or CIPE, announced the cancellation of all spring semester study abroad programs due to the rise of the Omicron COVID-19 variant. The decision came as many students were set to take off within weeks and much of course registration was already completed.

Although Yale does not run its own study abroad programs during the academic year, CIPE usually coordinates for and grants credit to students who want to study abroad in external programs. However, this spring, CIPE has barred students from attending such external programs, regardless of if the programs themselves were canceled or not. CIPE makes decisions about study abroad based on Yale’s overarching travel policy, which has evolved throughout the pandemic and was updated due to the rise of the Omicron variant.

“Unfortunately, in accordance with the Yale University International Travel Policy for Yale College Students, we were unable to send any students abroad for the spring semester,” CIPE Director of Study Abroad Kelly McLaughlin wrote in an email to the News.

Students were notified by their study abroad advisors of the update in December.

Luna Garcia ’23 had prepared to study in Madrid this spring, but found out a few days into winter break that she would not have the chance to do so.

“I think that the study abroad office themselves did as much as they could given the travel restrictions Yale implemented,” Garcia said. However, she added that the uncertainty of Yale’s travel policy made it stressful to navigate the study abroad process. 

Garcia noted that the number of students studying abroad during the school year is relatively low, which  allows the study abroad office to provide personal assistance to those who do. 

The problem, she believes, is that the staff themselves do not have enough information about what students hope to know regarding travel restrictions.

“They can’t give kids the information that they need or want … by virtue of it being such an unstable situation with Yale’s travel policy, which they don’t have any control over,” Garcia said.

For Marielena Rodas ’23, this spring’s cancellation marks her second failed attempt at studying abroad. She had previously planned to study abroad in 2020, which was ultimately canceled, and then applied again for a spring 2022 program in Paris. Although the program she intended to be part of is still operating as planned, she had to cancel her semester abroad due to Yale’s restrictions. 

As a comparative literature and French double major, studying abroad to receive credit for language courses has been an important goal, Rodas said. While she acknowledges the unpredictability of the public health situation caused by the Omicron variant, she believes students could have been prepared better for the changes.

“There was no real guidance,” Rodas said. “I wish the communication had been a little better up until that point.”

By the time study abroad cancellations were announced, Rodas had already purchased a one way ticket to Europe, paid a visa application fee and put down a $500 deposit for her program. 

Rodas said she wished that Yale had been more transparent about advising students on contingency plans, which she believes were not dealt with properly in the context of Yale’s last-minute study abroad cancellations.

McLaughlin acknowledged students’ concerns about the fast-changing nature of study abroad this academic year, but said that all study abroad officers have worked to be as transparent as possible throughout students’ study abroad planning processes.

“From the outset of the Study Abroad application process, and in all of our advising and information sessions, we have been as realistic and transparent as possible that students should have backup plans and not count on study abroad being approved,” McLaughlin said. “Nevertheless, we express a shared frustration with students that these experiences abroad have been so disrupted for so long.”

While all study abroad plans for the spring semester have been canceled, Yale students have eagerly anticipated for programs to continue this upcoming summer. 

CIPE hosted a webinar titled “Planning for Summer 2022” and extensive Q&A session on Jan. 19, which attracted over 100 students, according to McLaughlin. A recording of the webinar is available on CIPE’s website, and one-on-one advisors are available upon request, McLaughlin said.

“Everybody within CIPE with whom I have spoken is eagerly hoping that COVID-related disruptions to study/work/research abroad will end at the earliest possible moment,” McLaughlin wrote in an email. “We remain cautiously optimistic that we will be able to resume such activity this summer, at least in some locations, but we are advising all students to have domestic backup plans since, as we know, the course of this pandemic is proving difficult to predict.”

The deadline to apply for Yale Summer Session programs abroad is Feb. 15.

William Porayouw covered Woodbridge Hall for the News and previously reported on international strategy at Yale. Originally from Redlands, California, he is an economics and global affairs major in Davenport College.