Art by Leah Bae
When high school seniors eagerly accept admittance to Pepperdine, around 8 out of 10 of them do so with the expectation they will spend a significant portion of their college career in another country, according to the International Programs website. For many, the University’s stellar study abroad programs are the sole reason they choose to attend. This year, however, COVID-19 has destroyed students’ plans to go abroad.
Though the decision to cancel programs was unavoidable, Pepperdine is failing to properly accommodate students, confusing them with false optimism and indirect communication. In the coming semesters, IP should give priority to students whose fall programs were canceled due to the pandemic.
Studying abroad is an essential part of Pepperdine’s unique identity. The University ranks No. 2 in the nation for study abroad participation; roughly 80% of students take part in an IP program before graduating, according to Pepperdine’s website.
Pepperdine stands out from other schools since it has its own programs in seven locations rather than sending students to local universities to study. This means students do not need to worry about logistical details such as securing housing or making friends.
Additionally, Pepperdine encourages students to go abroad for an entire academic year, whereas most other schools only allow students to attend for a single semester or a short summer session.
Since the first round of abroad applications are typically due in September and decisions are released in October, first-year students spend most of their year planning for their time abroad. Similarly, juniors who return from abroad have a close connection to their programs, making Pepperdine culture uniquely abroad-focused compared to other schools.
Now, after the cancellation of this year’s abroad programs, students are unable to take part in a quintessential aspect of the Pepperdine experience.
The pandemic — not Pepperdine — should be the only barrier to sending these students abroad, however, IP already told sophomores they would not receive any priority for future programs.
IP is doubling the capacity for summer 2021 programs to give more students the chance to go overseas, however, the summer term is hardly comparable to studying for the academic year. The priority deadline is Sept. 21 for June and July programs, requiring students to again apply for a program that could end up canceled.
Next year’s sophomore class should then be given the option to go abroad in their junior year. While this is not ideal and alters Pepperdine’s standard process, COVID-19 warrants an atypical response. Structure can easily be arranged by encouraging first-years and sophomores to take more major classes to leave room for the GE classes offered abroad.
Sophomores who planned on going overseas in the fall now question if they will ever be given the chance to study abroad.
Contracts were voided for students who planned to attend the fall 2020 semester only; their enrollment in the program was not deferred to spring. Some students who contacted the IP office were placed on a spring 2020 waitlist but were given no timeline of when they would find out whether they would receive a spot.
Through Instagram posts, Zoom meetings and emails, the University tells sophomores to stay excited for the spring semester, even though there is no guarantee the programs will happen. While this positive approach is well intended, what students need right now is reality, not false optimism.
Countless scientific predictions released in the spring indicated COVID-19’s impact would not disappear by this fall, but Pepperdine waited until late summer to cancel programs, leading students on for months. Students received flight confirmation forms as late as June 26. Pepperdine should learn from this mistake when communicating with students about future programs.
As COVID-19 escalated and students awaited cancellation, the office also kept students’ vital documents such as passports and visas since they would need them again if students wanted to participate in a spring 2021 program, Director of International Programs Beth Laux wrote in an email.
While students were able to submit a request to retrieve their documents, sophomore CJ Davenport wrote in an email that the process of getting his passport back took over a month and included poor communication. Even after many phone calls and a trip from his home in Atlanta, Ga., to campus, IP was unable to confirm its whereabouts. After many failed attempts to locate it, the passport was finally mailed to him.
Sophomores who were planning to study abroad from their fall 2020 classes, had to re-register for classes in July after the closure of abroad programs. These students were given priority to register for classes before others, although some classes were already full from spring registration.
Sophomore Sammie Wuensche said that when registration came around, students struggled to get into classes for their majors.
Sophomores aren’t the only students affected: Students who were enrolled in abroad summer internship programs were not given any assistance in finding new internships. This left many rising seniors, who still need academic internship credit to graduate, grappling with the difficulty of finding a last-minute internship themselves.
The London Internship program, for instance, only had ten students enrolled for the summer. Pepperdine could have put students in touch with career counselors or, at the very least, sent them information on Pepperdine’s COVID-19 changes to internship requirements.
IP’s recent social media campaigns have also missed the mark. Attempting to recruit incoming first-year students on Instagram by encouraging program alumni to post their favorite abroad memories with hashtags like #RushFlorence shows a blatant disregard for the unfaltering deadly pandemic and the hundreds of unsettled students with canceled programs.
Instead of implementing tone-deaf recruitment campaigns, IP should have postponed the Sept. 21, priority application deadlines. Requiring applications this early prompts hundreds of new students to get their hopes up for a future that may not even be possible.
Going forward, academic-year program slots should be reserved for the sophomores unable to cash-in on last years’ acceptances. Students should be notified of this soon, so they can work with academic advisors to plan spring schedules that will accommodate a junior year abroad.
Without IP, Pepperdine’s value changes immensely. IP staff and Pepperdine administration obviously did not wish for these circumstances, however, students deserve to be prioritized and guided through this process in a more understanding, decisive manner.
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