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For some Grinnell students, studying abroad this upcoming spring is still a possibility. Illustration by Zoe Fruchter.

Sharene Gould Dulabaum ’22 has been planning to study off-campus in Copenhagen since her second year.

As a biology and political science double major with a concentration in environmental studies, Gould Dulabaum found it difficult to locate an Off-Campus Study (OCS) program that would allow her to pursue all of her areas of study simultaneously. Then she found DIS Copenhagen, which was able to provide the range of study she required. And while the coronavirus pandemic has squashed other students’ study abroad plans, Gould Dulabuam still plans to set off for Denmark in January as DIS Copenhagen is one of only four OCS programs available for Grinnell College students to attend this spring.

She will not be alone. Of the approximately thirty Grinnell students now planning to study off-campus in Spring 2021, many chose DIS Copenhagen as a second or third option after their original program was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Copenhagen presented a possibility for these students as Denmark currently allows foreign students into the country  and the program ensures compliance with the College’s COVID-19 requirements and its considerations for students’ safety.

Sophie Jackson ’22 was planning to attend the SRAS Moscow program in Spring 2021 before it was canceled in October. While she still hopes to attend the program in Fall 2021, Jackson decided DIS Copenhagen would be a great opportunity to study off-campus this spring.

Even though students are expected to depart for Copenhagen in January, there’s still some uncertainty. One common concern is traveling during the pandemic. “I mean we all kind of realize how crazy it is, the idea of traveling with COVID cases so high, during a pandemic. And so, I think we all kind of feel bad, just like, ‘Is it worth it, is it not?’” shared Gould Dulabaum.

“We all kind of realize how crazy it is, the idea of traveling with COVID cases so high, during a pandemic. – Sharene Gould Dulabaum ’22

Jackson has been questioning what might happen when she reaches Copenhagen. “I’m very worried that the program will probably be low density and so I am slightly concerned about [not] having the chance to connect with my peers and people my age and kind of being too isolated in an unfamiliar place.”

A concern for both Jackson and Gould Dulabaum is what will happen if DIS Copenhagen cancels the program partway through the spring semester. Will students be forced to return to the United States prematurely, as many Grinnell students in OCS programs last spring were when the pandemic first broke out in March?

While the College has assured students that they will not revoke approval for any of the OCS programs set for Spring 2021, the programs themselves can still be canceled. CET Taiwan, an OCS program based in Taipei, was canceled just last week. The cancellation was due to COVID-related travel restrictions, as Taiwan has not been issuing short-term student visas, which would be required for Grinnell students to spend a semester in Taipei. “I was not really that surprised, I was kind of expecting it,” said Makaela Burch ’22, one of the students planning on attending CET Taiwan this Spring.

Adam Solar ’22, another Grinnell student who will no longer be attending CET Taiwan, shared Burch’s sentiments, saying that he expected the cancellation as well. The program was not set to start until mid-February, meaning Burch and Solar haven’t yet bought plane tickets and the money they did invest in the program, a $500 deposit, will be refunded in full.

Alicia Stanley, the director of Off-Campus Study at Grinnell, assuaged worries of further cancellations in an email to The S&B, writing that, “Grinnell’s OCS partners have been preparing well for Spring 2021 and have been putting measures in place to successfully manage COVID-19 considerations. It is highly unlikely that the programs would cancel part-way through the semester.”

In the chance that the programs do need to cancel prematurely, Stanley explained that students would likely pivot to online learning but remain in their country of study.

For students like Gould Dulabaum, whose fourth-year class load won’t support future semesters of off-campus study, this spring is their last chance to study abroad. “Now or never,” said Gould Dulabaum. “It’s nerve-racking trying to navigate that risk.”

For other students like Jackson and Burch, studying off-campus in the summer, fall 2021 or spring 2022 is still an option. Grinnell College does not have a cap on how many students can attend OCS programs each year, and Stanley encourages all eligible students to apply for College approval to study off-campus in the 2021-22 academic year. Applications for approval are due December 5 for select programs and February 14 for all others.

“Now or never…It’s nerve-wracking trying to navigate that risk” – Gould Dulabaum

While Jackson and Gould Dulabaum continues to debate the merits of attending DIS Copenhagen in the Spring, a small bit of hope remains in a Google document shared among the friends. Made up of lists of packing essentials and possible cool tourist spots to check out, the document is perfectly titled to encapsulate both the excitement and uncertainty of the coming spring: “Copenhagen!?”

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Nadia Langley
Nadia Langley, Editor in Chief
Nadia Langley is a fourth year majoring in history and French. Her favorite historical French quote is: "Literally I didn't say that, that's so cray," -- Marie Antoinette, 1793.
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