COVID-19’s Severe Impact on Future Traveling Classes

COVID-19’s Severe Impact on Future Traveling Classes

Emily Cetin

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 linda.beck@maine.edu.

Difficult Decision-Making for International Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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.

Travel Opportunities with the National Student Exchange

Travel Opportunities with the National Student Exchange

Andrea Swiedom, Staff Reporter

    The National Student Exchange (NSE) provides UMF students with the unique opportunity to study at different campuses in the U.S. and surrounding territories, such as Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Canada for a semester or full year. Students choose their top three campuses from the list of participating institutions and are accepted based on placement availability. 

    What makes NSE alluring is the program’s affordability, as Lynne Eustis, Assistant Director of Global Education, explained in an email. “Students pay their normal tuition and fees to UMF, and do not pay tuition to the host school,” she said. “Room and board are paid directly to the host school. Financial aid can be used for this exchange program.”     

    UMF senior Darby Murnane studied for the Fall 2018 semester at the State Univeristy of New York at Potsdam (SUNY), and was able to apply all of her scholarships and grants towards the exchange tuition. The ability to apply her financial aid towards SUNY was integral to her decision to participate in the NSE program. 

    She had been considering transferring to another school, but her impressive financial aid package from UMF made her feel obligated to stay. “I started shopping around, and when I heard about the NSE program I thought it was a way to transfer without commitment,” Murnane said.

    For senior Zoe Stonetree, NSE was a means to visit a place that has always intrigued her. “I got an email,” Stonetree said excitedly. “The title of the email read, ‘you can go to Alaska.’ I had already been thinking about Alaska, so I took it as a sign, as silly as that sounds.”

    Stonetree spent the Fall 2018 semester at the University of Alaska Southeast, in the southeastern capital city of Juneau, Alaska. While there, she took an environmental science course with a lab that included a conference on marine mammalogy, to fulfill a general education requirement. She also took a creative writing course that counted towards her creative writing major, and some endemic courses like backpacking in Alaska.

    “We had a bear safety course, learned how to use a compass and what kind of equipment is necessary, and we had a couple of overnight trips,” Stonetree said.

    Over the years, Eustis has seen students use this exchange program for a variety of purposes. “Students participate in NSE for many different reasons. . . to take classes not available at UMF, broaden their education perspective, pursue research, field studies, internship opportunities, investigate graduate schools, and make connections in a new job market,” Eustis said.

    Ultimately for Stonetree, experiencing all that Alaska had to offer was more important to her than the university, but for Murnane, the courses at SUNY were her main motivators for choosing NSE. “I had discovered that journalism was what I wanted to do,” Murnane said. “They just had more journalistic resources for me to test out.”

    While at SUNY, Murnane took courses in magazine writing and mass media, and worked as a staff reporter for the school newspaper. She was very involved with her temporary campus during her time there, participating in swing dancing, mixed martial arts, the school’s radio station as well as working as a lifeguard and swim instructor. Murnane enjoyed SUNY’s vibrant campus life and a change in environment that even included an emphasis on healthy, fresh food.

    “There were three places where I could get pasta sauteed to order! Oh my god, the tortellini,” Murnane said, waving her hand in the air. “They didn’t have a third-party food company; they cooked everything in-house. They even had salad greens growing under UV lights in the dining hall!”

    Despite Murnane’s positive experience at SUNY and decadent dining, she realized that UMF was where she wanted to be, which is also what junior Megan Scheckells realized after her NSE year. 

    Scheckells originates from Kansas City, KS, and was attending Emporia State University when she applied to UMF for the 2018-2019 academic year through the NSE program. “I thought, I am just going to do this for a year to test the waters and try out life someplace new,” Scheckells said.

    Much like Stonetree’s reason for choosing Alaska, Scheckells chose UMF because she had always felt drawn to Maine. “I feel like a lot of people just have that state that they want to go to, and they don’t have a specific reason why,” Scheckells said.

    During Scheckells’ NSE year at UMF, she built unique and important bonds with people, which she attributed to NSE’s requirement that exchange students live on-campus. “I never intended to take the dorm option, but I think they want to create a community, ” Scheckells said. “In the long run, I think it was good.”

    Stonetree also attributed the connections she made in Juneau to NSE’s dorm requirement, which inevitably puts students in touch with other NSE exchange students. “I did feel pretty comfortable pretty quickly,” Stonetree said. “There was a big group of NSE people, so it was pretty easy for me to fall into that group.”

    While Scheckells spent her first year in Maine, she grew enamored with the close proximity to outdoor activities compared to Kansas, and she went on her first hike to Bald Mountain. “You’re just not surrounded by the woods and mountains [in Kansas] the same way you are here.”

    Scheckells was also impressed by the discussion-based English courses offered at UMF, and as her exchange year came to an end, she felt very strongly about staying. “There was a lot to think about just with my family missing me and money-wise, because the flights to and from Kansas are a lot of money,” Scheckells said. “Quite frankly, the biggest reason for me moving to Maine was because I made a lot of genuine connections.”

    NSE was also such a positive experience for Stonetree that she considered extending her semester into a year long exchange in Juneau, but was ultimately happy to return to Maine. “I noticed that once I came back from Juneau I was way more into Farmington. I had much more of a desire to be a part of the community,” Stonetree said, pausing to articulate herself. “I have more awareness in general about Maine and what it’s like as a place, because having lived nowhere else I didn’t really know what was particular about living in Maine.”

    NSE brought a new perspective to all three students, allowing for a greater appreciation of Maine and UMF. Even so, they all confirmed that they would eventually move on to pursue opportunities in other places. Scheckells wants to go into publishing and plans on moving out of Maine for a job or internship in the future. Stonetree is still exploring her options after graduation. Murnane will be starting graduate school at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland in the fall of 2020. 

    If students are interested in participating in NSE for the Fall 2020 semester, Eustis urges students to contact her immediately as the application deadline is April 1. For more information, students can visit the NSE website (https://www.nse.org/) and request an advising session with Eustis (lynne.eustis@maine.edu) through the google form: (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdd8QrtU8xlPB1ls58vQWfc1hhjwUZtXuIodoHbJMHZTvIzdQ/viewform).