When Piper Boss ’23 contacted Middlebury with concerns about studying abroad in Spain – then a country classified by the State Department as “Level 4: Do not travel” – she was informed by her coordinator at the foreigner and dean of students Derek Doucet that she had two options: go to Madrid or take leave.
Concerned about the increase in cases of Delta variant Covid-19 at the end of the summer, a number of Middlebury students have questioned the safety of their plans to study abroad for the semester of fall 2021. When they asked to withdraw from their international programs and re-enroll at Middlebury, they were told that Middlebury’s over-enrollment was preventing the possibility of returning to the Vermont campus.
“My family and I were very nervous for me to live in this large metropolitan area and to interact with the local population, which is an important component of programs abroad because the goal is language immersion,” said Boss said.
Boss had planned to start his semester in Madrid in mid-August. Covid-19 cases increased in Spain towards the end of July, prompting the US State Department to announce its Level 4: do not travel classification July 26, 2021.
According to Boss, the administration of the CV Starr School Abroad in Madrid informed those enrolled in the fall that the only way to cancel the program would be if Spain closed its borders to international travel. Vaccination against Covid-19, Boss also learned, was not a requirement for foster families.
The vaccination rate in Spain has since increased, with 80% of the population having received at least one dose as of September 21. Boss has been placed with a vaccinated foster family. Her experience so far has been positive, but she noted that her time could easily have been a lot more dangerous and felt that Middlebury didn’t seem to mind the possibility.
“Considering that Covid is still a problem in most countries around the world, it just seemed like there was a huge lack of foresight for international programs,” Boss said.
Eliza King Freedman ’23 and Abby Schneiderhan ’23 faced similar circumstances, having planned to study abroad in Rabat, Morocco.
Like Spain, Morocco was classified as a Level 4 destination: Do not travel on August 23, 2021. As of that date, 48% of the population had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and as of September 22, 59.2 % of the population had received at least one dose. Host families were not required to be vaccinated and the country has now implemented a 9 p.m. curfew since August 2.
Despite serious physical and mental health concerns while traveling to a Covid-19 hotspot with strict public safety measures in place, King Freedman felt she had no choice but to go from forward with his initial plans – having received no assurances from the administration that she would be allowed to return to Middlebury.
“I just felt like I couldn’t really make an informed decision as to whether it was safe to come or not. [to Morocco] because Middlebury basically removed any safety net that we had throughout the process, ”she said.
Schneiderhan made what she called a “now or never” choice to travel to Rabat. The day after leaving Canada, its point of departure, the country ended flights to Morocco.
“One of the most stressful parts of this whole experience was deciding what to do when the trip was so uncertain,” Schneiderhan said. “If I had waited another day, I wouldn’t even have been able to make it to Rabat, and I didn’t have the opportunity to fall back knowing that I could return to campus.
Ultimately, all students whose programs abroad were canceled or who decided not to participate in these programs were able to return to campus this fall and received housing, according to Dean of Students Derek Doucet. Buying college at the end of summer Hostel on the Green made it possible to have more space available on the Pain de Pain campus than planned at the beginning of the summer.
By the time the college created a waiting list for on-campus housing, Boss already had plane tickets to Spain that didn’t leave until four days later.
“I felt very ignored,” she said. “They clearly prioritized their struggle for housing over the safety of their students going abroad.”
Doucet told Campus in an email that all college decisions to hold study abroad programs were based on a review of pandemic conditions in each country.
“Looks like these students really struggled to make some really tough decisions,” said Doucet. “As we continue to manage the effects of the pandemic, we have done everything possible to provide students with the opportunity to study on campus and abroad when possible. “