Harvard’s Office of International Education announced Friday morning that it would cancel study abroad programming for the Spring 2021 semester.
The decision comes in light of continued concerns over student health and safety, persistent travel restrictions, and countries’ evolving entry requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual study abroad programming will not be available as “for-credit options” for Harvard College students, OIE’s notice added.
However, the announcement does not apply to homebound international students enrolled in their local universities.
Camila L. Nardozzi, director of the OIE, called Friday’s decision “excruciatingly disappointing.”
“We’ve been watching the public health situation for months and months, since the start of all of this,” Nardozzi said. “Unfortunately, things worldwide haven’t progressed in the way that I think, globally, we would have hoped they would.”
Nardozzi said her office’s decision came as a result of extensive discussions with Harvard’s Office of Global Support Services, Provost Alan M. Garber ’76, and the Office of Undergraduate Education.
As the OIE monitored the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide, staff largely anticipated the eventual decision to cancel study-abroad programming. That choice “was made for us,” Nardozzi noted.
The announcement came a day after the deadline by which many students had to submit applications for international universities, leaving them frustrated.
Kyle D. O’Connor ’22, who is on a leave of absence for the fall semester, had submitted applications to schools in Scotland, England, and Australia, hoping to study abroad for the spring semester.
“I’ve wanted to study abroad ever since I started. It’s been a dream of mine,” O’Connor said.
For O’Connor, the OIE’s decision came as a surprise. He said he had already solicited letters of recommendation, paid the fees that came with requesting and sending his transcripts, and sat down for hours with OIE staff.
“So, this comes as quite a shock, especially when they did it,” O’Connor said. “I think it was a hasty decision; it was too early of a decision to make.”
In response to student concerns, Nardozzi reiterated that their decision to cancel was not taken lightly and was made in accordance with guidelines laid out by Garber’s office on Aug. 20 that restricted University-sponsored domestic or international travel.
“While some may consider that either too strict or too conservative, one thing that we do know is that the virus is transmitted much more through travel,” Nardozzi said. “And so, one way that Harvard can do its part and help minimize transmission is by, you know, minimizing or prohibiting international travel.”
The Center for Disease Control has marked nearly every country in the world at a “Level 3 Travel Advisory: COVID-19 Risk is High Status.” CDC guidance still advises that traveling “increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19.” The agency recommends staying at home as the safest way to protect from virus transmission.
Garber’s Aug. 20 message echoed the CDC’s recommendations and underscored Harvard’s commitment to “slowing the spread” of the virus.
In a typical semester, roughly 100 to 120 students participate in study abroad programming. Nardozzi said she hopes that figure will not change post-pandemic.
“International experiences, such as semester and summer study abroad, are incredibly important to students’ academic development, personal development, and academic development,” Nardozzi said. “And until those experiences are cancelled, those experiences should continue to be discussed.”
University spokesperson Jason A. Newton and Vice Provost for International Affairs Mark C. Elliott, declined to comment on the cancellation.