Sophomore Emily Cetin (Photo courtesy of Abbie Harrington)
by Sydney Beecher, Contributing Writer
Despite the challenges and restrictions COVID-19 has created, a handful of faculty members are hoping to offer a variety of travel courses this upcoming May.
Half of the travel courses have already been postponed until 2022 and there is a chance more will follow suit. “Most have been postponed until the next academic year, but there are several that are waiting to see how COVID pans out this winter,” says Associate Dean of Experiential & Global Education Linda Beck.
Dr. Beck aids to promote and administers the risk management issues surrounding travel courses. She and Lynne Eustis, the Assistant Director of Global Education, have been working with colleagues across the University of Maine System to manage study abroad courses during the current COVID pandemic.
Beck and the professors who plan to lead travel courses in May are investigating how to address a number of issues regarding international and domestic travel. They are hoping to find answers to questions similar to: “Are the destinations accepting foreign travelers, specifically Americans? Is there a quarantine requirement in the destination country? Can our faculty and students travel safely to and within the country?”
All travel courses need to take a variety of factors into account to operate. “Everything from border closures, lack of visa processing, mandatory 14-day quarantines upon entry into host countries, mandatory COVID testing upon entry, restrictions for hostel stays and modes of in-country transportation to concerns for handling student COVID cases are factors that must be considered when making decisions if programs can run,” said Lynne Eustis. If a travel course cannot meet those requirements or factors, then the course may be postponed or canceled.
At the moment, there are five travel courses being offered in May 2021. These include courses to Germany, Iceland, Nepal, and the United Kingdom (Shakespearetanan). The courses that have been postponed until 2022 include Croatia, Boston, New York City, and the United Kingdom (Rehabilitation). In addition to these postponed courses, other faculty may propose courses for 2022 as well. As a political science professor herself, Beck plans to offer once again her travel course, Ecotourism and Environmental Activism in Tanzania, in 2022.
Although the immediate future of travel courses is surrounded by uncertainty, it is important to realize the opportunities they can provide to students. Emily Cetin, a rising sophomore who participated in Beck’s Tanzania travel course in winter 2020, decided to attend UMF precisely because of the travel courses the university offered. “They offer students such amazing opportunities to get out of the classroom and immerse themselves in the real world. Engaging with people and learning about their lives in person is much different than simply being lectured in a classroom by a professor.” Cetin also expressed that going to Tanzania became life-changing. “The things I learned and helped with, from planting trees to making reusable pads for women, I brought home with me. The trip helped me narrow down what I want to do in life. While I was on the plane headed back home, I was already planning on which travel course I wanted to go on next.”
To find the latest information about travel courses and descriptions about each program, visit https://www.umf-experience.org/travel-courses or email Linda Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrea Swiedom Staff Reporter
While domestic UMF students living on campus were able to easily relocate to Scott Hall, or make arrangements to return home in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, international students were forced with tough decisions on whether or not to remain in Farmington and how to get home should they decide to leave. These students had to grapple with the additional stress of navigating border policies, booking flights threatened by cancellation, and the potential of being quarantined upon arriving home.
For 25-year-old French Teaching Assistant Enzo Boulay, the desire to remain in Maine and wait out the pandemic seemed like the most viable option, until March 19. “I had two choices. I could stay at my friend’s house in North Yarmouth or I could have stayed in Farmington,” Boulay said over video chat from his room in Le Mans, France.
“They gave me a room in Scott, and my plan was to come sometimes to Farmington to work and stuff, but one week ago Lynne Eustis and Linda Beck, my advisor, told us, ‘You should leave now, I highly recommend that you leave now.’”
Boulay made plans to return to UMF for the Fall 2020 semester and made his way back to what felt like a deserted country. “In Paris a lot of people have masks and in Levon I saw nobody. I just saw people in the train station, but in the streets there’s nobody.”
French exchange student Jennifer Guisset received the same recommendation by Eustis and Beck, but ultimately made the decision to return to her hometown of Toulouse due to the pressure she was receiving from the French embassy. “I didn’t feel kicked out from Farmington. That was my choice, and I took one week and a half to make my decision,” Guisset said over a video chat while walking around her mother’s vacant flat. “I had a lot of support. Linda and Lynne were always there for us; they gave us the support we needed.”
Meanwhile, Spanish Teaching Assistant Alba Fernandez had every intention of remaining in Farmington rather than returning to Argentina during the pandemic as she was already in the process of extending her visa for a summer teaching position with Upward Bound. When the announcement first broke about the UMaine system transferring the remainder of the semester to virtual courses, Fernandez was assured that she could continue her position as a TA online and continue to live on campus.
But responses to the pandemic were changing on a daily basis for the UMaine system as well as immigration policies for the United States and Argentina, and on March 19 Fernandez was strongly urged to return home by her advisor.
“By that time, it was impossible. Flights were cancelled, airports were closed,” Fernandez said via video chat while sitting in the sun outside of Scott Hall. “It will be at least May until I am allowed to go back to Argentina because the government closed the borders, and even Argentina people are not allowed to get into the country. So basically, at the beginning it was my decision, but now I don’t have a choice.”
Both Fernandez and Guisset had to take into consideration the health and safety of their families as well. Fernandez feared returning home because her mother already has a compromised immune system, and Guisset’s mother has cancer.
“This is all about adaptation everywhere,” Guisset said, standing in a room full of half-packed boxes left behind by her mother. “I took the plane on Friday; I arrived on Saturday. I stayed at my friend’s house in Paris to rest a little and to let my mother quit her apartment and go to her family’s house.”
Guisset will live alone in her mother’s flat to ensure her safety, but despite the isolation, she maintained a positive attitude. “When I was in medical school, I was always studying alone in my flat. So I am kind of used to this.”
Boulay, who has been quarantining himself in his room for the recommended two week period, expressed less contentment with the situation. He had been watching television and playing video games to pass the time, but even after his two week quarantine he will have very little freedom. In France, people are only allowed out of their homes for one hour of exercise a day or to go to the grocery store.
“If we go out without a good reason we get fined 135 Euros,” Boulay said. After the third offense, the police have the right to arrest people for violating the safety precautions that France is enforcing nation-wide.
“The police are in my neighborhood, and they are always watching,” Guisset said. With movement so restricted in France, she is thankful for UMF’s quick response to convert all courses to online classes, knowing that this will add structure and routine to her days.
“I think Americans reacted very fast when faced with coronavirus. For example, in France they don’t have online classes,” Guisset said. “They don’t know how they are going to have graduation at this moment. They don’t have classes, they don’t have exams, they don’t have anything.”
As courses resume online, Fernandez will be adjusting to virtual platforms to conduct her office hours and assist with Spanish courses while also consistently checking in with her family and friends in Argentina. “I think international people face an extra obstacle or challenge, which is processing this pandemic situation while so far away from home and from our people,” Fernandez said.
Kathleen Perry Contributing Writer
The May travel courses have been announced, but there is great uncertainty as to whether the students will be able to partake in them or not, due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus.
This is the time that the global education professor, Linda Beck, usually posts new course offerings for the May Term. This year’s trips were to be offered with locations including Boston, Germany, Nepal, Spain, and Coastal New England, and could have ranged anywhere from four days to two weeks. However, due to the COVID-19 virus, no one knows what the next day will bring.
This virus is now classified as a pandemic and there are cases in all 50 states within the U.S. It originated in China, and only now are they beginning to recover as it spreads to the rest of the world. The worst cases as of recent, are in Italy and have led to over 11,591 deaths, according to a New York Times Coronavirus tracking map as of this afternoon. Though this virus puts the elderly, those with diabetes, and individuals with heart problems at the highest risk, anyone can perish due to the severity of this virus’s symptoms.
If institutions have reopened and are safe by May, students who chose to travel to Boston will be visiting special education schools. They will be learning about how they can use different strategies to make their educational environment as inclusive as possible. This trip will be led by Kate MacLeod and Brian Cavanaugh from May 17-20.
As of right now, everyone in the U.S. is being instructed to stay home and avoid all unnecessary travel. Social distancing is another strategy which is being implemented for the people of America, as well as for those in other countries. With these conditions, subject to change, it’s safer for everyone to stay where they are.
Before COVID-19 became a pandemic, there was a plan to have an Iceland trip from May 13th, through the 27th. This trip would have been led by Julia Daly and Rachel Hovel and it could have been counted for a general education requirement for a natural science course; it would’ve been entitled Aquatic Ecosystems of Iceland.
Hovel said that the course would’ve entailed students collecting “data in streams and rivers to understand the landscape and geological processes that influence biological communities in aquatic ecosystems.” Hovel referred to Iceland as being particularly relevant to Maine, as it has some shared North-Atlantic ecology.
Hovel still felt a desire to lead the trip to Iceland, despite what she described as “considerable uncertainty over the status of travel courses right now.” Hovel said, “I do research in the Canadian Arctic, and wish to give students a first-hand experience with Arctic/subArctic ecosystems.”
“Being able to experience glaciers, and the brand-new ecosystems that emerge as glaciers recede, is very striking,” Hovel said. “For students, it cements the principles of geology and ecology, and gives them a chance to practice the skills of observation and the scientific process.” Other travel courses give the students a similar learning environment depending on the field, in which they can have real hands-on participation.
Another aspect to take into consideration is that borders to many countries are closing, including the Spain border, which would prevent many of these travel courses, regardless of the University’s decision.
Derek Taber Contributing Writer
Nine students are set to embark on a journey to the nation of Tanzania in East Africa where they will learn the impacts of tourism on the local communities. Eco tourism is a form of travel that involves visiting areas of pristine countries, with the intention of conserving the environment, and minimizing the footprint of conventional travel.
Professors Linda Beck and Mark Pires are the two instructors leading the excursion in Jan. 2020. Together Beck and Pires are taking the students to Tanzania for thirteen days to ingratiate them with a set of principles that will help them understand the philosophies of ecotourism.
Learning the impact on the local economy while traveling is the main philosophy that Beck hopes to instill. “In the context of Tanzania, I want to help the students understand the tourists’ roll as consumers with the sustainability of our purchases,” said Beck. “One has to be really careful of how they spend their tourist dollars.”
Large tourist corporations will move into an area and exploit the local communities, adding pressure to the already limited supply of resources. Most tourism companies are owned by foreign investors and keep the profits in foreign markets. Companies will add infrastructure, and put a drain on environmental ecosystems by building roads, and supply lines to keep the tourist well stocked.
Photo captured from the Tanzania Trip held in 2016. (Photo courtesy of Linda Beck)
“People will go off-road on safari creating a havoc to the flora and fauna, but also amongst the animals,” said Beck. The money is kept in the deep pockets of the companies and does not get redistributed. “You want to make sure the dollars you spend actually go to the local economy,” said Beck.
Thomson Safari, a tour company based in Massachusetts that leads Tanzanian safaris, had a lawsuit filed against them in 2010 by the local communities after the denizens were forced from their land and blocked from a vital water supply. Thomson was building luxury safari camps.
“The exploitation of the environment, and the people is widespread,” said Beck.
Another goal on this winter trip is to meet with local environmentalist, and observe the local ecotourism operations. The group hopes to actually engage in ecotourism as well. Beck said, “When we hike Kilimanjaro, when we go on safari, when we visit coffee farms, all of those activities will be done in a sustainable manner.”
Nelson Peterson is a student who is going on the trip to Tanzania in December. Peterson has never been to Africa before and hopes to learn what ecotourism can do for communities around the world. “It will be nice to see how other people live in a different country,” said Peterson, who is excited to help with the Porters Association.
Helping bring water to dryer areas, and lug buckets over long paths to remote villages throughout the Serengeti is a special opportunity to him. “It will be really important to help the porters, part of our trip will be to help them [Porters association] bring water to places,” said Peterson.
The impact of learning the importance of environmentally responsible behavior while traveling is the most valuable takeaway from the journey to East Africa for Beck. “Watching the students get excited about Tanzania,” she said, “[and] learning how to become a global citizen,” is something that one can take with them forever.