Plans for the spring 2021 semester look to uphold an aspect of normality amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A four and a half month study abroad program to Costa Rica is finalizing its protocols to provide students with a safe international experience. There is also anticipation that students will have the opportunity to go to Cambridge, UK, Reutlingen and Tübingen, Germany, as well as France and Japan.
Students won’t see a difference in cost between the upcoming semester and previous years and the majority of classes are also set to be either in person or a mix between physical and Zoom sessions for the Costa Rica program.
“[Costa Rica] has very strict protocols in place: testing, contact tracing, quarantine [upon arrival] and all of that. Students will do a quarantine for the first 10 days at a retreat center before they come together and live together in the house. I would like students and parents to know that Costa Rica has a very excellent public healthcare system,” said Heidi Michelsen, coordinator of the semester-long program to Costa Rica.
As of Oct. 26, Costa Rica hasn’t surpassed 105,000 in total positive cases of COVID-19 and has remained at a level three travel advisory, in which a level four prohibits travel.
Although the trip grants students a factor of commonality in the midst of a pandemic, components of the program have altered from years past to accommodate for health related restrictions.
“One of the main features and one of the best things of the program in the past was the opportunity to live with host families, which would expose both the host family, the student and the whole student community to more people [during a time of COVID],” Michelsen said.
Essentially, program participants will be housed with other Valpo students in a larger housing complex to create their own community and social bubble.
The condensed Spring semester also causes changes to the program from previous years. With a later start date and a miniscule amount of breaks, a semester in Costa Rica differs from the one experienced on Valpo’s main campus.
“We have to take into consideration the schedules of our partner university in Costa Rica. Our semester will be slightly longer than the [main campus] semester. [It] is about 15 or 16 weeks,” Michelsen said.
Valpo’s Spring calendar has also posed issues for other opportunities to travel abroad throughout the semester.
Typically, trips occur in the duration of the two week Spring break. As a result of the condensed Spring semester, the recess taken over Easter weekend does not allow for such programs to take place. Notably, an excursion to Costa Rica for students majoring in the healthcare field has been cancelled.
“This isn’t just U.S. dependent, Costa Rica has to allow us to travel there as well. It’s basically working in the confines of two governmental bodies that one could be restricting our travel leaving, the other that could restrict our travel coming,” said Amy Buckenmeyer, coordinator of the Costa Rica Spring break trip.
The trip allows for students within the healthcare field to gain experience working in both rural and urban parts of Costa Rica through partnerships with locally licensed physicians.
Plans are not currently being made to reschedule this cancelled opportunity.
“I’m a firm believer that it’s difficult to obtain cross-cultural experiences, consistent with what our trips do provide for students, anywhere but in-country. Even though our trip is largely looked at as a service learning trip, I often say that students who go on the trip take far more away from that experience than they bring to that experience,” Buckenmeyer said.
Rescheduling is largely dependent on the ability to find a vaccine for COVID-19. While the halting of these trips and their valuable experiences come as a disappointment to the Valpo community, Buckenmeyer assures that these decisions were not made easily.
“These trips are instrumental to the mission and vision of Valpo and it has been a very difficult decision to decide what to do. We want to be consistent with the mission and vision, but at the same time, even more crucially so, now we need to protect people, not only students and faculty within our community, but also people in the communities where we serve,” Buckenmeyer said.