The last time Jakob Barrus ’22 boarded a plane was in March 2020 – just as Stanford sent the students home.
Unmasked and oblivious to what next year had in store for him, he watched the COVID-19 headlines scroll on airport television. “Someone here must have COVID,” he recalled thinking.
His next flight was due to be in Florence, Italy, alongside about 40 other Stanford students for a spring term abroad. As cities were closed and borders closed, Barrus’ plans with the Bing Overseas Study Program (BOSP) were replaced with a quarter of the online classes from his childhood bedroom. And then another quarter. And then two more.
Barrus was one of the study abroad applicants who were entrenched by the pandemic. Starting in the spring of 2020, BOSP has suspended five consecutive quarters of programs.
The students are now piecing together the blueprints of their college experience. After more than a year of home college, some students are more eager than ever to continue their studies abroad. For others, their last quarters on campus are too precious to be spent elsewhere.
Seventy undergraduates are enrolled to study abroad in the fall in programs in Berlin, Florence, Hong Kong, Madrid, New York, Oxford and Paris, according to BOSP executive director Shawna Knauff. However, the programs will be changed to support student health and safety. The BOSP has implemented COVID-19 protocols and safety measures, according to Knauff, which include testing, modifying travel and activities, and requiring that students be fully immunized.
Last fall, Oxford hosted students from the UK for a “Studying Away at Home” program of virtual lessons and activities at Stanford’s facilities in Oxford. But this program was the only one open to students during the pandemic. Those who signed up for the other programs were not so lucky; all have been postponed once more.
Erick Bravo ’23 was one of 16 who joined the Oxford summer 2021 program. Despite the small group and restrictions, this year’s program included new course offerings and field trips. According to Bravo, students could enroll in OSPOXFRD 67: “Pandemics in a Cultural Context” or take an art walk in Bristol and a tour of the region’s Black History. The program also hosted guest speakers, including Sir Andrew Pollard, chief investigator of COVID-19 vaccine trials at the University of Oxford. “He came to Stanford House and told us about the process he oversaw with the AstraZeneca vaccine trials and recent news on the effectiveness of the vaccine,” Bravo said. After his speech, the students joined him for a formal dinner and aperitif.
“I’ve heard that for this program they usually drop you off and say, ‘Have fun!’ “, did he declare. “But this year we’re doing something every week.
But Tori Pollak ’23 was not that lucky. She applied to the Madrid and Santiago programs this summer, excited to use her Spanish in a professional setting and explore new cultures. As an international relations major, studying abroad is a degree requirement, but it was also an experience Pollak had been looking forward to since she was young.
She hoped that after more than a year since the start of the pandemic, a shift abroad would be possible. However, when an email from BOSP announced otherwise, Pollak found herself back home for the summer.
“Part of me saw it coming,” she said. “It’s great to be home, but I was still disappointed.
With the pandemic uprooting daily routines, Story Frantzen ’22 said the “whirlwind of panic, nervousness and anxiety” he experienced kept him from thinking much about his Paris program canceled in the spring of 2020. He ended up spending his spring term at his home in Louisiana amid the historic French culture that piqued his interest in a trip to France.
While Bravo and Pollak still have two years at Stanford to settle in overseas neighborhoods, considerations were different for Barrus and Frantzen as they planned their final year as undergraduates.
After a year of canceled plans, Barrus said he had been conditioned to remain pessimistic. Still, his estimates of the chances of a fall in Florence are high: “I would say I’m 98% optimistic it will happen. Bravo also planned to move away from the Washington, DC campus.
“This fall, I will have been off campus more often than I have been there, which shows how strange the college experience is for many of us,” Barrus said.
However, he plans to extend his absence from campus for another term by enrolling in the BOSP program in Florence, Italy, for the fall. “Studying abroad was really the one concrete thing I wanted to do in my university experience,” added Barrus.
In contrast, Frantzen said he preferred to cherish his last quarters on campus: “Paris is not going anywhere like my friends here might.
Pollak shares Barrus’ hopes for studying abroad to resume this school year and is considering applying for the Madrid spring program.
“I have no doubts that the program is doing everything it can to bring students back abroad,” she said.
After a second year at home, Bravo said studying abroad was an opportunity to “get out there and see as much as you can.” He looks forward to reuniting with his friends on campus in the winter, a sentiment shared by Barrus.
“This past year has made me realize all the things I didn’t like about Stanford,” Barrus said. “Soaking everything in these last two quarters – I can look forward to that.”