BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Universities around the country have begun announcing plans for the 2020-2021 school year, many taking advantage of online opportunities. The study abroad program at Western Kentucky University is planning to do the same.
Due to COVID-19, students can no longer fly to their abroad experience, but WKU plans to bring a global experience to students virtually.
Associate Provost for Global Learning and International Affairs John Sunnygard says it's vital the university uses all of its resources to still provide a global experience, such as utilizing relationships with various embassies.
“Its never been more clear like in the situation of a global pandemic where Americans really need to understand what’s going on around the world. It's vital for a university like Western Kentucky to make those opportunities available regardless of whether a student can hop on a plane or its using zoom,” said Sunnygard.
Utilizing technology can also provide easier access to students. Along with scholarships, the university hopes to create programs to give all students a global perspective.
WKU is continuously working with staff and students to make the safest transition back to campus, but for many international students across the country, the transition may never take place. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced Monday that students enrolled in fully online schools and programs will not be granted visas, and U.S. Customs and Border protection will not allow them into the country.
International students enrolled in a hybrid program (online and in-person courses), like WKU's, will not be affected, but ICE recommends international students take in person classes if offered.
Sunnygard says the university is trying their best to offer reasonable resources for international students and will continue working with the government and various embassies.
“We’re looking at how it is that we’re going to continue to serve our international student population in the midst of the uncertainty that the pandemic represents,” said Sunnygard.
As some countries close their borders to American citizens due to the pandemic, Sunnygard says it will not affect the working relationships WKU has made with international universities, and they plan to continue working together in a safe way.
“These are personal relationships , these are educational relationships. I think that piece is super important and that’s the biggest thing students come back with is just how small the world is and how valuable it is and how surprising it is that they can make friends with someone with whom they have absolutely nothing in common and develop really close relationships," said Sunnygard. "Those things won’t go away, they will not go away and I think in fact by doing things over zoom and maintaining our partnerships, we’re going to be even stronger."
WKU's Department of International Affairs is actively creating global programs for students in the fall and spring. They are hoping to announce events, pricing and activities by August.