Due to the surge of Covid-19 cases and the spread of the Omicron variation, University of Toronto (U of T) has cancelled its study abroad programs for the winter 2022 semester. As an outcome, numerous students are struggling with logistical difficulties related to their finances, travel plans, and living situations.
While a few students enjoy taking benefit of virtual exchange offerings, students are still frustrated by what they consider a watered-down experience.
Students tackled a lot of logistical challenges after U of T cancelled their trips, basically connected with their finances and academics.
In an email to The Varsity, Kyra Nankivell, a third-year industrial engineering student, wrote that since it was basically impossible to be repaid for the around $8,000 she had spent to plan for her exchange, she attempted to recover what she could. She had likewise rented her place in Toronto and was left without feasible housing for face to face classes in the winter.
A third-year software engineering student, Blake Gigiolio, likewise needed to scramble to join up with classes for the following semester while he was facing similar struggles. He added that though the college advised students to take on U of T classes for the winter semester in July, in the event that their exchanges were cancelled, his winter year semester had not been totally arranged out.
Many students also lost the funding offered by the study abroad program to help them pay for the experience leaving students like Tanja Velickovic, a master’s student in European and Russian affairs, to bear numerous non-refundable fees. This was particularly disappointing for Velickovic since the university had given them the go-ahead to book non-refundable services back in October.
In response to these concerns, a U of T representative noticed that students were advised to remain enrolled in their classes as to not face academic issues if their study abroad experience were cancelled. Additionally, they wrote that U of T’s emergency funding remains available to students experiencing financial strain.
Cause for frustration
In interviews with The Varsity, students expressed frustration, both at the cancellation and the manner in which the university had taken care of the situation.
Nankivell wrote that she “felt betrayed” because she trusted the university would do its best to convey the experience it had sold her. She added that after spending hours to sort out some way to incorporate an exchange into her degree, and even changing programs to have the opportunity to go, she felt that the cancellation was unexpected and declared in an “impersonal email.”
Velickovic was really in Ottawa attempting to get her visa from the Austrian Embassy when the declaration was made. It was “heartbreaking” — and furthermore disappointing, on the grounds that international study is mandatory for her program.
A third-year international business student, Neha Verma, at UTSC, added that it was quite shocking since the country was not even in lockdown yet.
Some study abroad programs had the option to offer students the valuable chance to take part in the experience practically, just like the case for Verma. Verma remained in the program to keep up with the internship aspect of it, which was hard to adjust to an internet-based arrangement since her job generally should happen face to face.
To make it work, Verma should take expert’s level courses — since none of the courses she was initially taking are offered online— and adapt to the time distinction between Canada and Singapore. She added that her main pressing issue is that she will miss out on the networking opportunities that the National University of Singapore community would have offered.
“I could reach out to them on LinkedIn or something, but it’s not the same as… randomly hanging out with people,” Verma explained in an interview with The Varsity. “That is one of my major points of stress — that I’m not getting as much out of it as I had hoped to get.”
Mika Wee, a fourth-year criminology student, added that students in their program were offered a virtual exchange choice, just to have it cancelled.
“They gave a false misleading option only to take it away from the students again… it was really disheartening to see how upset the students got,” Wee added, referring to other students who were in their program.
Future of learning abroad
In Nankivell’s point of view, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused the foreign study program to lose its selling point, since the university has “failed to generate or implement creative solutions allow students to safely travel abroad without the university taking on undue risk.”
On the other hand, Verma said that she came to know that a lot of the experiences that people thought had to take place in person could actually be done online. It also includes attending foreign universities, as she herself is an international student.
Moreover, the U of T representative mentioned efforts that the universities have made to work together with partner universities to move coursework and professional experiences online. The pandemic has additionally brought about the development of the university’s Global Classrooms drive.