With vaccines being administered every day in Massachusetts, the United States and much of the world, many are hoping to see a return to relative normalcy before too long. For some in the Tufts community, a return to normalcy means finally getting the opportunity to study abroad.
Applications for study abroad programs running during the 2021–22 school year were due Feb. 1; those hoping to study abroad next year have already made tentative plans. But for many, the uncertainty and frustration of the past year persists, whether it be navigating Tufts’ strict guidelines regarding international travel or coping with the rapidly closing window of opportunity to travel in college.
Sophomore Isabel Castro is looking to spend time in Portugal, but since Tufts doesn’t have any programs in that country or pre-approved external programs, her way forward is ambiguous. Castro says that she has been looking at external programs through Portuguese universities, but many of them advertise very little about their programs for American students, making her research into studying abroad much more difficult. Her big advantages, Castro said, are her family ties to Portugal and her dual citizenship, which makes it easier for her to travel independent of a university.
“Next semester, if Tufts says that they’re not doing any programs abroad, I could just do a leave of absence and either become an au pair there or just take classes at the universities there,” Castro said. “There are so many opportunities there for Portuguese Americans like myself.”
According to Castro, a main factor she would then have to consider is what she wants the rest of her college experience to look like.
“I haven’t had a normal spring yet at Tufts, and the only normal spring that I could have would be my senior year, which is kind of crazy to think about,” she said.
Castro’s thoughts reflect a sentiment shared by many students — the sense that the time to study abroad, and to have a “normal” college experience, is running out.
Junior Julia Shufro, who has always wanted to study abroad in Paris, shares this anxiety. Shufro was accepted to the Tufts-in-Paris program but withdrew last May prior to making a deposit in anticipation that the program would be cancelled.
In her efforts to go abroad, Shufro applied to the Wellesley-in-Aix program in Aix-en-Provence, France. She was accepted to the program for fall 2020 but was met with resistance by Tufts’ safety regulations regarding study abroad. Despite the efforts of staff at both Tufts and Wellesley College, Shufro ultimately could not attend the program, leaving her without many alternatives.
“It’s very frustrating … I had to find housing on my own, I was scrambling for it in November … [the program] was something I was very much looking forward to,” Shufro said.
Similarly, junior Jen Frye was planning to spend the 2020–21 school year in Madrid, but ultimately withdrew from the Tufts-in-Madrid program. Frye recalls making a similar decision to Shufro: withdrawing from the program before making a deposit due to doubts about travel safety. Now, looking forward to next fall, Frye remains uncertain.
“Essentially, there are just a lot of unknowns,” Frye said. “Tufts has no idea how fast the vaccine rollout will be this summer, [and] they don’t know what the COVID situation will be in those other countries in the fall.”
Frye and Shufro believe those who work in the Office of Global Education are trying their best to navigate a very difficult situation.
“[Tufts Global Education] did really try to help me,” Shufro said. “So certain people at Tufts were absolutely willing to help me with my study abroad options, but Tufts as an institution wasn’t having it, and was not supportive of that idea, claiming that because of the testing protocol here, it would be safer here.”
Frye’s communications with the Office of Global Education gave them the sense that the timeline for when it will again become safe to study was very much still up in the air, and that all the Office of Global Education could do was harm reduction.
“What Melanie [Armstrong, assistant director of global education] told me was essentially they’re trying to avoid another evacuation situation like what happened this past spring. They really don’t want to send students abroad and have to bring them back home again,” Frye said.
Castro remembers what happened in the spring of 2020 vividly. Many of her friends on the soccer team had to return to Medford last spring after only a few weeks at their respective programs.
“Right when we were finishing up our practices, one of them came, and we asked them what they were doing here, and they said they had been sent home,” Castro said. “One of my teammates was saying it was really hard for her because it took her three or four weeks to really feel comfortable with her host family’s home, and right when she really got into a whole groove and knew her way around the town, she got sent home.”
Castro, Shufro and Frye’s stories echo those of many in the community who don’t want their chances to study in another country to slip away, but who also have no control over what develops in the next six months. For now, whether students will be able to study abroad in the fall of 2021 remains in flux. Students interested in this prospect are encouraged to contact the Office of Global Education for advising.
Shufro is considering both Tufts-in-Paris and Wellesley-in-Aix, should the programs be options during the next school year.
Frye approaches the prospect of future study abroad with a pragmatic sense of pessimism, but remains hopeful for their time after Tufts.
“I don’t think that the national vaccine rollout will move quickly enough so that Tufts undergraduates are vaccinated by the time the fall semester rolls around,” they said. “I also think the new strains of COVID that are coming from England, South Africa, Brazil, that are more resistant to the vaccine, are going to throw a wrench in the vaccine rollout program. So I am making backup plans. I still would very much like to study abroad, but I know that there are other opportunities for international study in my future if I can’t go with Tufts.”