International Programs Ambassadors connect to applicants by hosting virtual meetings, such as the IP London Launch in October, in which students get to know the other students in their program. The IP London Launch celebrated students’ acceptance into the London program and provided information about studying abroad. Photo by Sawa Yamakawa
Students who hoped to spend the spring semester studying in one of Pepperdine’s International Programs are restructuring their plans and their class schedules. Leaders in the IP office say they are trying to keep morale high following the University’s announcement to suspend all programs through May.
President Jim Gash informed students of the spring 2021 IP suspension in a Nov. 11, email. In an email to the Pepperdine community on Jan. 8, Dean Michael Feltner wrote that the University has not yet made a decision regarding summer programs but to expect more information in March. Approximately 80% of Seaver students participate in study abroad programs during their time at Pepperdine, according to the Pepperdine website. Most students participate in an IP program during their sophomore year.
“Despite the fact that we aren’t running programs, just like every other office we’re open, we’re here; we’re ready to help students,” said Beth Laux, executive director of International Programs at Seaver College.
The IP office, Laux said, tries to maintain excitement through virtual events such as the Launch, while also helping students adjust spring course schedules.
IP Evaluates Travel Restrictions
Some of the challenges the IP office faces are the unpredictable travel circumstances and restrictions caused by COVID-19, which are affecting countries and travelers worldwide. Laux said IP is working with local officials at the various international locations to anticipate and understand regulations and expectations for international travel, as well as make plans for the 2021–2022 academic year.
In addition, IP is keeping an eye on advancements in healthcare. The timelines and efficiency of vaccine distribution will impact students’ ability to study abroad, Laux said.
“The introduction of vaccines recently gives us a lot of hope for a light at the end of the tunnel and we are monitoring that very carefully,” Laux said
Shanghai Director Charlie Engelmann wrote in an email to the Graphic that COVID-19 vaccines will have an effect on student enrollment in Shanghai because the amount of risk was a factor in student willingness to apply for the program.
IP Connects With Students
In the spring, the IP office will continue to confer with experts about travel safety while answering questions from students and their families and advising on course loads, Laux said. The IP staff are highly involved in providing information about possible program re-openings and preparing students for when study abroad resumes.
“Sometimes there’s not a lot of information to provide, whether that’s because there are no changes or because we’re in the middle of waiting for a change to come out,” Laux said. “Sometimes there’s not a lot that we can communicate to students at a given time. But when we do have that we want to be ready to hit the ground running and provide them with that and so we can help alleviate some of those worries.”
To lessen the impact of processing disruptions or delays, the IP office requested passport information early in the fall semester and the office will inform students if any problems arise; in previous years passport information was not collected until the spring semester, Laux said.
The IP office works a year in advance and, despite the suspension of the Shanghai program, Laux said they are optimistic about having full enrollment in the 2021–2022 academic year, expecting over 300 students each semester across six of the program’s seven locations. To the IP office, these high enrollment numbers show that students are still excited to study abroad despite the uncertainty.
IP Ambassadors Maintain Student Excitement
Pepperdine’s IP Ambassadors are juniors who offer a student perspective on the abroad programs the University offers. Lausanne Ambassador Emily Stephens said IP is moving out of the recruitment stage and into retention, where the focus is on keeping students enthusiastic about abroad.
To maintain student excitement, Stephens said she and the other ambassadors are working on not letting worries about COVID-19 negatively affect the decision to study abroad for students.
“A lot of people are worried that once they get to Europe, there’s going to be travel restrictions and it’s just not going to be what they expected, which is very understandable, but I tried to ease their worries by just letting them know that no matter what this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Stephens said.
IP Adjusts To Shanghai Program’s Suspension
In the wake of the Shanghai program suspension, study abroad seems uncertain, said London Ambassador Sawa Yamakawa, who is also the Perspectives assistant editor for the Graphic.
“I think especially with the coronavirus, it’s really difficult to imagine what situation they’re going to be in once they are at their abroad location, because obviously the vaccination requirement might differ depending on which country you’re going to,” Yamakawa said.
The University carefully chose to suspend the Shanghai program, considering several factors like financial impact, effect on faculty, program reputation and low application numbers, Englemann wrote.
“This is, frankly, a hard reality for me to accept, but I understand it. We also know that the suspension decision directly affects many people’s lives — the few students who were hoping to study here in the summer or next academic year, local staff, faculty and our partner university, Fudan,” Engelmann wrote. “We are all doing our best to support our people and manage these relationships in the right way.”
Sophie Collins, a sophomore International Studies major, planned to study abroad in Shanghai this year. Collins chose Shanghai because she wants to become fluent in the Chinese language and explore more of the culture; she said being unable to study abroad was disappointing because it was one of her main reasons for applying to Pepperdine. According to Pepperdine’s website, the Institute of International Education ranked Pepperdine second in the nation for study abroad participation.
Due to the suspension of the Shanghai program through spring 2022, Collins said she rearranged her schedule to meet her major requirements and is on the waitlist for the Heidelberg program.
“It’s been interesting, practicing adjusting to this and just realizing that things are still working out maybe if not in a way I originally expected them to,” Collins said.
Ashley Mowreader contributed to this reporting.
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