On March 12, the university suspended all university-sponsored study abroad programs and the Wake Washington program. On March 13, Wake West was also suspended.
“After careful evaluation and with the health, safety and wellbeing of our students as our foremost priority, effective immediately we have made the difficult decision to suspend all Spring 2020 WFU-sponsored semester Study Abroad programs (classes and activities), and to complete the remainder of the term remotely,” said David Taylor, the assistant dean for Global Study Away, in an email to students.
The decision was made based on recent developments, both nationally and internationally, regarding the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19). On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. Later that evening, President Donald Trump restricted travel from Europe to the United States. He then extended the travel ban’s application to the United Kingdom and Ireland on March 14. In addition to the U.S., other world governments have also enacted measures to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
Taking note of these rapidly unfolding changes, the university aimed to respond as quickly as possible. Students currently on study abroad programs were asked to submit confirmation of a scheduled return flight by Saturday, March 14 and were notified that student support services and housing would close on Friday, March 20.
While students expressed disappointment upon being forced to return home, some also recognized the necessity of the university’s decision.
“It’s been really heartbreaking to leave,” said Molly Carter, a sophomore student who recently vacated the Flow House in Vienna, Austria. “It happened so quickly that it didn’t really sink in until it had already happened. I’m going to miss Vienna but I do feel better being home with all of this uncertainty.”
Once home, the students will continue coursework. The university is currently developing the best process for remote learning, with the goal that students will resume coursework during the week of March 23. The Reynolda Campus will also begin remote delivery of course material on March 23, following the university’s decision to suspend all in-person classes on March 11.
Similar reasoning was used in the following two emails sent to those affected by the suspension of Wake Washington and Wake West, with additional concerns noted about suspensions of internships and indefinite closures of offices, schools, venues, museums and public transportation in the surrounding areas.
Students enrolled in the Wake Washington program were encouraged to retrieve all essential belongings from their apartments before the program’s housing closes at 5 p.m. on March 22. Likewise, students were notified that Wake West housing closes at 5 p.m. on March 18. However, the final move-out date for both programs is still set at 5 p.m. on May 6.
Since Wake Washington and Wake West involve internships and group activities, the emails also indicated changes specific to these operations. All internships with the program were suspended, though students would be able to independently complete their internship either in-person or remotely at the discretion and approval of their supervisor. Likewise, in-person visits and tours scheduled were cancelled, though speakers will be held remotely, when possible, through online talks and conversations.
Jennifer Richwine, the executive director of the Wake Washington Center, expressed her hopes of continuing to provide students with a rewarding academic and career-oriented experience.
“While we are very disappointed that the students won’t finish out their semester in D.C., our goal is to do as much as we can to provide the Wake Washington students a D.C. experience remotely,” Richwine said.
Richwine also explained that the program will continue to partner with the Office of Personal and Career Development to provide remote workshops that will focus on preparing for interviews, internships and jobs. Students will also have the opportunity to network remotely with alumni and parents in the area, with many hoping to return to D.C. this summer for internships.
While preparing to leave Wake Washington, junior Jason Gaaserud expressed his view on the decision to suspend the program.
“Wake Washington was an incredible experience and it obviously is disappointing to have the program end early but I am fully supportive of the decision to suspend the program,” Gasserud said. “I think Jennifer Richwine and Dr. [Katy] Harriger were put in a very difficult place and, ultimately, did what they thought was best for our safety. Certainly, having the process occur only made everything harder to balance, but they have done a great job helping us all since announcing the end of the program.”
Although the students will no longer have the immersive experience of living and working in any of these study abroad or study-away locations, the university will continue to support the personal development, academic instruction and career preparedness of students considering future internships and jobs in the area.
Yet, the changes are still disappointing for many students, especially considering the difference in remote versus in-person learning.
“Even though everyone on the program is working hard to continue as much of the experience as possible, it just won’t be the same when we’re not all together in D.C.,” said sophomore Alli Pluemer.