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Carlson study abroad requirement raises questions during pandemic

The Carlson School of Management is the only college at the University of Minnesota that requires students to study abroad.
Students gather in a common area inside the Carlson School of Management on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.
Image by Nur B. Adam
Students gather in a common area inside the Carlson School of Management on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.

The Carlson School of Management’s requirement that all students study abroad is causing concern for some University of Minnesota students during the COVID-19 crisis.

On March 15, students abroad received notice that they had to return home to the U.S. earlier than planned as a result of concerns about the coronavirus. A month later, University President Joan Gabel announced that all summer classes would be moved online while May and summer session study abroad programs were suspended. 

As part of the only school at the University of Minnesota with a study abroad requirement, Carlson students wonder how their study abroad and graduation plans may be affected in the near future. Students are still allowed to register for fall study abroad programs, which have not been canceled.

Carlson is satisfying the study abroad requirement for any students who came home early from an abroad experience this spring or were in classes that had a planned abroad experience, said Kirsten Canterbury, director of education abroad at the Carlson Global Institute. 

Students with disrupted study abroad plans between now and the end of the fall 2020 semester will also have the requirement waived.

Study abroad offices were knee-deep when it came to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic early on Canterbury said, with some students returning home from areas that were more affected by the coronavirus than the United States.

“There was about a month where we were working around the clock to figure out what the right decisions were and how we could help students,” Canterbury said. “We are still tying up some of the loose ends from the spring semester.”

Marketing sophomore Annagrace Vargo said one of the reasons she applied to Carlson was the study abroad requirement. 

However, she is more susceptible to complications from the coronavirus due to a preexisting condition. When she travels, she needs to either bring enough medication to last her entire trip or have an accessible pharmacy. 

“I don’t think the school would let us go if it wasn’t safe,” Vargo said.

The program Vargo is applying for has a May application deadline. With her current educational plan, she said it would be much more difficult to plan her study abroad experience into her senior year than during her junior year, when she had originally intended.

Canterbury said the CGI is advising that students do parallel planning: As students register for classes and abroad experiences, they will also be registering for in-person classes at the University if their plans abroad change. 

Sophomore Atharv Kulkarni is studying management information systems and marketing. He was planning on studying abroad next spring and only has housing for the fall semester next year. 

Kulkarni said he thinks his plans will work out, but he is waiting to hear more news about his application to a Carlson abroad program. 

“I think it would be pretty ridiculous to expect us to study abroad with everything going on,” Kulkarni said. 

Canterbury said that decisions about the study abroad requirement will continue to be evaluated on an ongoing basis. 

It is a sad situation, she said, and she and her staff have been working to virtually to answer questions and connect with students returning from abroad experiences.

“The goal is no one’s graduation will be delayed from this,” Canterbury said. 

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