Taking flight: Study abroad resumes at Union

Publication Date
Catherine Seaman '22 is pictured at the Roman aqueduct of Segovia in Spain.

Catherine Seaman '22 is on top of the world at the Roman aqueduct of Segovia in Spain.

More than a year after the pandemic paused all study abroad programs and restricted global travel, 48 Union students are living and learning in six countries this term.

“I’m really happy Union was able to make this happen,” said Catherine Seaman ’22 of Ipswich, Mass., a biology major with a minor in Spanish and Hispanic studies who is studying in Madrid. “The language and cultural immersion of this experience have opened my eyes with appreciation for the differences, the history and the people of Spain.”

For Lauryn West '23, of West Hartford, Conn., a history major with minors in classics and theater, studying abroad has meant the opportunity to visit iconic sites such as the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

“For our Topography and Monuments of Athens class, we get to go ‘behind the ropes’ at some points, such as at the Temple of Nike,” West said. “We also were able enter the Propylaea, the gateway to the Acropolis, which is usually closed to visitors. It was breathtaking to see something so close.”

For now, close encounters in other countries are limited to destinations in Europe. The majority of Union students are on programs in Antwerp, Belgium; Galway, Ireland; York, England; Rennes, France; Athens; and Seville, Spain.

The program in Madrid is part of the New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium, to which Union belongs. Seaman and another student are the first Union participants.

“I am living with a wonderful host family, which has been a crucial aspect to my immersion in Spanish society,” said Seaman, who is studying literature, Spanish and drawing. “During a non-pandemic year, there is a larger travel aspect to the program, but we have had group excursions to Segovia, Alcalá de Henares and El Escorial, and tours of the Prado and Sofia Reina museums. The program has been exceptional so far.”

Those seeking more information about study abroad can attend the International Programs Study Abroad Fair, set for Thursday, Oct. 28, 12:30-2 p.m. in Hale House in Old Chapel. Students can learn about dozens of programs, sample international foods, enter a raffle and talk with faculty and other students about their international experiences.

“It’s tremendous that after all this time, we can finally send students abroad, one of the defining experiences of a Union education for so many,” said Lara Atkins, director of International programs.

“We are balancing our commitment to an international experience with the complications and ongoing challenges that are a reality in today’s Covid world.”

Meticulous adherence to health and safety protocols, a close monitoring of individual countries and continents, and good relationships with educational partners abroad make what was unthinkable a year ago possible today, Atkins said.

Having realistic expectations also helps.

“We tell students not to expect to be able to travel as freely among cities and countries and across borders as they have been in years past and to practice the same sensible behaviors we would expect on campus or at home. But with the appropriate caution, they can still have amazing experiences that will impact them for a lifetime.”

Lauryn West said she initially was worried about moving to Greece for the term but has found minimal disruption in her day-to-day life.

“The number of people affected by Covid is a small fraction compared to the whole population,” she said. “The only time things are affected is when you want to go into a store and the capacity is limited to a person or two, so you have to wait. Other than that, things are very similar to back in the States regulation-wise; masks inside and in crowded outdoor spaces.”

Typically, about 125 Union students go abroad each fall, the busiest term for international programs.

Because of an abundance of caution, and in some cases, country closures, Union canceled fall 2021 terms abroad and winter break mini-terms in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Egypt, Fiji, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam. The winter break Klemm Fellow International Internship Program also was put on hold.

During the winter 2022 term, four students will go on the economics term to Lille, France; 14 to a London program; and one to Nairobi, Kenya, on the St. Lawrence University term that is part of the NY6 Consortium.

In addition, four students are planning to go to South Korea, Spain, Australia and Italy on non-Union programs. The winter term in Cambodia was canceled.

On the domestic front, the winter term San Francisco Internship on Innovation and Creativity was moved to spring 2022. Other active spring programs are based in London, Germany and Italy. The Washington, D.C., internship program run by the Political Science Department also moved to spring.

Plans are also afoot for the summer 2022 National Health Systems Program, in which students will explore health care systems of the U.S., Canada, Scotland (UK) and the Netherlands.

In addition to running in-person terms abroad, Union continues to offer its Virtual Global Internship course (TAB-201T), a collaboration with several of the College’s study abroad partners.

“All of our programming is subject to change,” Atkins noted, “but in the long term, we hope to be able to offer as many in-person opportunities as are safely possible.”