With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic ramping up, USF’s study abroad programs have faced limitations but are persevering through virtual internships to help students meet graduation requirements.
USF World, which leads USF in its international involvement, is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state guidelines to determine travel plans and regulations, according to Interim Vice President of USF World Kiki Caruson.
Currently, the CDC has issued a level three warning, which limits nonessential travel and greatly affects studying abroad. Caruson said as long as the CDC has this global pandemic warning, there will be no traveling outside of the U.S.
“When the CDC has a global pandemic warning, then that means there’s no travel right now,” Caruson said. “We are not even having domestic travel, so there is no international travel that is being approved by the university.”
Typically, Caruson said the State Department and the CDC have country-specific advisories on a normal basis, but because of COVID-19, the CDC has made this a global advisory that recommends no traveling to any country.
“That’s the guidance that we use to determine safe, international travel,” Caruson said.
However, just because traveling abroad is not permitted for the summer semester, that does not mean students who need to have an abroad experience to graduate, such as international business majors, are being penalized.
With USF ranked No. 1 for best value college for an international business degree according to College Factual, it is important to USF World to offer an alternative to studying abroad.
“We are offering virtual global internships,” Caruson said. “Some students were able to do virtual internships with a company abroad. That’s one of the ways we are able to offer internships in the virtual arena.”
Some students were able to get their internships through Career Services and others went through USF World, according to Caruson.
Students who were not able to secure internships on their own received assistance from the Education Abroad Office (EAO) in finding internal internships that were completely online for the summer. The EAO is ready to help match students with companies if they have not already found one.
“For a student who does not already have an internship and has not identified a company he or she can work with, and they need help with the matchmaking process and need to be matched with an opportunity, that’s where the education abroad team can help,” Caruson said.
The EAO helps each student based on their specific graduation requirements.
“It is based on what their major is and what the type of experience they are looking for,” Caruson said. “Then, they work with our providers to find an experience that’s relevant to their major.”
Caruson said that the EAO has many virtual internship options for students to choose from.
“There are some [virtual company internships] in Barcelona, the United Kingdom and Italy,” she said.
While this is an unconventional way to study abroad, Caruson said she feels collaborating virtually with companies in other countries can still be rewarding.
“Not every student can go abroad for an internship, so what about if you could do an internship from home, but with a company located overseas,” she said. “It is a way to gain some global awareness and global experience without necessarily having to leave.”
In-person internships have the advantage of close collaboration, but Caruson sees the new virtual experiences as having their own benefits.
“As we find ourselves having to work and socialize online, companies have gotten better, and more skilled, at creating robust, project-based experiences that students really get a lot out of even though they are not physically in the office.”
Spring semester study abroad students were able to return home without being penalized for the shortened semester, according to Caruson.
“They were able to complete their programs,” she said. “They were able to return home and continue their experience and finish it out online.”
USF typically does not have study abroad trips for the fall semester, Caruson said, so this upcoming semester has not been overly impacted by travel cancellations for students going abroad for internships.
Even though abroad travel is not permitted for USF students, the foreign exchange program has not been deferred.
“We may have students coming into USF from abroad as exchange students,” Caruson said. “It is dependent on CDC and Department of State guidelines.”
Caruson clarified that as long as the CDC guidelines remain the way they are, USF will not be sending any students out of the country, but the university may see international students arriving.
“Could we see international students arriving for exchange in the fall? Sure,” Caruson said. “Can we send our students out of the country? No.”
Some of USF’s exchange partners have canceled or have deferred to the spring semester, according to Caruson.
“In some instances, programs have been canceled or suspended,” she said. “Some exchange partners asked students to come in the spring when we have more knowledge about safety, international travel and what is possible.”
When students begin classes in August, they will be able to view and apply for study abroad opportunities for the 2021 spring and summer semesters, according to Caruson.
All of these decisions are dependent on what the CDC recommends for travel and what other countries decide to do for themselves, Caruson said.
For now, Caruson said there are many international virtual experiences students have access to at the education abroad website.
“Virtual international experiences might be some lectures that have been recorded, or tours of museums or cultural sites that students can participate in,” she said.
While Caruson said that virtual experiences are not usually preferred, everyone is doing their best to adapt to the safety measures of the current times.
“There’s so much uncertainty with this pandemic that none of us know where we will be next month,” Caruson said. “We are hoping to turn challenges into opportunities. Where we cannot have international travel, we want to provide virtual international experiences.”