Campus, News

BU cancels four Study Abroad programs

Boston University’s Study Abroad Office. BU has permanently cancelled four of its Study Abroad programs in Auckland, New Zealand; Dresden, Germany; Grenoble, France and Quito, Ecuador. SYDNEY MAES/ DFP FILE

Boston University will permanently close its Auckland, New Zealand; Dresden, Germany; Grenoble, France and Quito, Ecuador Study Abroad programs.

BU previously announced the cancelation of Fall 2020 Study Abroad programs as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, but these four programs will not reopen in the Spring.

BU will no longer employ any of these programs’ faculty, according to the program directors. 

BU Spokesperson Colin Riley wrote in an email the closures were a result of financial concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic and uncertainties facing higher education. 

“We’re sorry it is happening and wish it didn’t have to,” Riley wrote, “but it comes after a thorough review of a number of factors.”

Silke Fimmel, director of the Dresden program, said in an interview Monday that she was surprised by the decision to close her program. She said she was told the decision was due to financial constraints.

“I tried to argue that our program has always [been] profitable,” Fimmel said. “It’s demonstrated that a suspension of the program would be less expensive, actually, than a total closure.”

Now that the Dresden and Grenoble programs will close, engineering students wishing to study abroad in Europe will only be able to study in Madrid, Fimmel said.

“Dresden is actually the very first program that offered a study-abroad curriculum for engineering students at BU,” Fimmel said. “The students should not be deprived of having a choice when they want to go to Europe, and not just have the option to go to Spain, but also have the option to go to another city.”

Fimmel said she thinks the University makes a “big mistake” in choosing to shut down the program, as many prospective students choose BU in large part because of its array of study-abroad opportunities.

Céline Bellissant, director of the Grenoble program, said in an interview Sunday that while she’s disappointed, she understands the decision.

“Some cuts in the budget needed to be done,” Bellissant said. “I’m a little sad that it’s touching our programs, but it’s the smaller ones and it makes sense at the end.”

Bellissant added that even with the closure of her program, students can still study in France through the Paris program.

Kelly Swing, director of the Quito program, said in an interview Sunday that he doesn’t understand why the program will permanently close instead of reopening once it’s safe to travel.

“We understand and can absorb a year’s hiatus,” Swing said. “But to say that, ‘Yeah, and don’t even think about trying to start this again,’ seems somewhere between uncaring, unrealistic and  just myopic.”

The Quito program offers a unique opportunity to learn about science in one of the most biodiverse areas of the world, Swing said. 

“We’re not only seeing nature and witnessing the wonders of nature, but we’re also exploring and actually developing skills as a scientist. We’re out making observations, measuring things and witnessing behaviors,” Swing said. “All that is something that really just can’t be replaced.”

The closure of the Quito program is an especially disheartening blow, Swing said, because of all that’s already been lost to the pandemic.

“In the last few months, we have seen some scientists and even the founder of this program, who’s a retired professor from BU, pass away because of coronavirus,” Swing said. “I really am hard-pressed to express what it would mean to see the Boston University Tropical Ecology program become one more victim of [COVID-19].”

A Change.org petition encouraging BU to reconsider its decision to close the four programs has garnered over 2,500 signatures, many of which are from program alumni.

Abigail Glick, a rising senior in the College of Arts and Sciences who participated in the Dresden program Fall 2018, said she loved her experience.

“[My friends] were all also really sad and really shocked,” Glick said. “Collectively, we thought it was the best experience we had and we couldn’t believe that all the future pre-med kids wouldn’t be able to experience it.”

Glick said the Madrid program — the single remaining Study Abroad opportunity specific to pre-med students after the Dresden and Grenoble closures — will pose challenges since host families may be less willing to house students because of the pandemic.

“A lot of my friends from freshman year did the Madrid program and they all do house stays,” Glick said. “It’s difficult to place these students into homes, especially now with COVID.”

Simeon Atha, a rising CAS senior and Spring 2019 Quito program participant, said he is disappointed about the program’s closure.

“Everyone who’s done it describes it as a hidden gem,” Atha said. “It would be really sad to take that away, especially because there doesn’t seem to be any kind of equal replacement or other program that people who are interested in those kinds of fields can do.”

Atha added that the program’s location makes it unique.

“It’s one of two programs in the entire continent of South America,” Atha said. “Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries, so you can’t even get an experience like that anywhere else in the world.”

Natalie Molea, who graduated from CAS in 2020 and attended the Quito program in Spring 2019, said her program prepared her for a career as a conservation biologist.

“I learned so much more during my four or five months there than I did in the rest of my time in college,” Molea said. “Being there just really solidified my love and appreciation for nature.”

Molea said the opportunity also granted students “valuable” experience by allowing them to create hands-on projects and collect data. There, she and her peers learned what it was like to be out in the fields as they would when working professionally, she said.

During the program, Molea returned home temporarily because her father was dying. She said the program’s faculty supported her through this time — Swing was “just so understanding” and accommodated her situation and Ecuador program coordinator Maria Zalles personally helped her purchase plane tickets and drove her to the airport.

“I still came back to the program afterward because I loved it so much and I didn’t want to miss anything else,” Moles said. “[I] feel such loyalty to these people and I feel angry that they were so blindsided.”

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