Loyola study abroad grapples with the pandemic


Junior Robert Prasso poses by the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy. Passo was one student abroad sent home due to the coronavirus. Photo courtesy of Robert Passo.

Victoria Sosa

In a normal year, Loyola’s Study Abroad Program would send approved students anywhere from Spain to East Africa using its rich network of partner universities and abroad programs. This year, however, not a single student will be sent abroad.

“Loyola like many universities evaluated our study abroad programs on a program by program and location by location basis,” said Mariette Thomas, who took over as study abroad director in July.

Initially, the study abroad office made the decision to suspend the programs in locations where COVID-19 had the biggest impact, Thomas said. Eventually, however, Thomas said they had to suspend all their spring programs.

Students were given the option to petition this decision and still attend their programs. These petitions were reviewed by The Office of the Provost and Risk Management. But in many cases, the decision on whether or not to send students abroad was not entirely up to Loyola.

“Some of our partner universities have already made the decision not to welcome incoming exchange students next semester,” Thomas said.

These changes didn’t only affect those who were planning to study abroad but also students that were already overseas.

“In Italy for example, we had students whose semesters were just starting when the coronavirus situation started to worsen in Italy,” Thomas said.

Only one petition was filed with the office, according to Thomas. As the pandemic spread farther, however, the petition was withdrawn. Eventually, every student who could deferred their programs to another semester. Deferrals totaled 25.

One of those students, Kennedy Garett, had been planning to study in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at the Pontificia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro.

“It took weeks for me to have the courage to send my study abroad advisor an email stating my wish to defer,” Garett said. “It was a hard pill to swallow because I dedicated so much time to preparing for this opportunity. At one point, I was working three different jobs to save up money for this six-month stay in another country.”

Garett, a sociology major, was going to study the political sociology of Brazil, a plan she said she had since her freshman year.

“My academic plan as a sociology student has always been to get out in the world and get in touch with different cultures and societies,” Garett said. “As a first-generation college student, I’ve dreamed of this opportunity since I realized it was financially feasible.”

Like many Loyola students, Garett has had to continue to push her plans further and further back as new developments continue to come with the COVID-19 pandemic. Her original deferral to spring 2021 has turned into a second deferral to fall 2021 as the pandemic fails to improve.

“Studying abroad my senior year was never the plan,” Garret said. “I have always hoped to use my last year at Loyola to prepare for life after graduation such as interning, securing a job and getting my own place.”

But Garett said she doesn’t want to graduate without taking advantage of every opportunity but she said some things are just out of her control.

This uncertainty has set the tone for the entire Study Abroad Program as the board struggles with ever-changing decisions, according to Thomas.

“It’s a wait-and-see situation,” Thomas said.

Applications for summer and fall of 2021 are still being accepted at this time. The decision about whether students will be allowed to go abroad for summer 2021 will be announced in the spring, Thomas said.