As COVID-19 started shutting down international travel in March, students from Northern Illinois University studying abroad had to be rushed back home.
Anne Seitzinger said she knows it was devastating for them. She’s the director of the study abroad office at NIU.
Months later, her staff is still helping them deal with the consequences of the abrupt change in plans.
“They're trying to get refunds for the students, and most of them have been able to do that,” she said. “And the ones that haven't been able to tell us about refunds yet, it's sounding positive.”
There were only around a dozen students overseas in the spring, which she said made it easier to secure travel logistics.
Some of the students only had the last few days of their trip shaved off, while others were in earlier stages of their experience. Seitzinger said most of the students finished up their classes online from home to make sure they got their credits.
Other students were supposed to leave later in March to head to Japan. Seitzinger said they’re still motivated to make that trip happen as soon as it can.
As she helped secure last-minute plane tickets for students, Anne Seitzinger said she was a little thankful this didn’t happen during the summer. It should be the busiest time for students to study abroad.
“Usually, it's crazy trying to get, you know, 150-200 students out the door to go overseas and everything that entails and that just stopped,” she said. “Nothing.”
All of those were canceled. The fall is strictly virtual too, including the study abroad fair where her office usually recruits students to go on trips.
Seitzinger said, for now, they’re trying to offer some online cultural experiences. Virtual options range from Japanese business seminars to tours of car manufacturers in Prague. But she knows it’s not the same as packing a bag and leaving the country.
Some winter programs are in the planning stages. But, she said, given the pandemic, it’s hard to say if they’ll go on as planned.