The world of study abroad has been turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic, and no region or country has been spared the often dramatic effects of this modern plague. Nearly every American program in France has been severely impacted by the current crisis; and our situation is by no means unique, for programs across the globe have been forced to cancel, suspend or modify their usual operations.
During this critical period, the Association of American University Programs in France (APUAF) believes that it is more important than ever to reaffirm the key role that study abroad plays in the larger educational mission of American universities and colleges. And while a certain degree of retrenchment is inevitable as long as the pandemic lasts, we are convinced that in the long run study abroad will continue to provide our students with an invaluable and irreplaceable experience.
We are fortunate to find ourselves in France, where the government moved quickly in the spring of 2020 to create furlough schemes and other forms of financial assistance to help counteract the negative economic impact of the pandemic. These measures have been key in keeping many of our programs afloat. Most of our programs have also benefited from the strong institutional support of our home institutions, and it is our hope that this support will continue until we are able to return to relatively normal working conditions.
We would also like to acknowledge the efforts of the French government in reducing potential barriers for foreign students wishing to come to France during the Covid crisis. The most important of these has been the institution of a special waiver, which, despite current travel restrictions, allows our students to enter France for a period of less than ninety days.
It should by now be obvious to one and all that global crises call for global solutions. We no longer have the luxury of imagining that one region or one nation can protect itself from a world-wide pandemic. It is just as illusory to believe that borders will afford any kind of protection from the effects of climate change. (Long gone are the days when, following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the French government could claim that the radioactive cloud produced by the meltdown had miraculously stopped at the Vosges mountains.) And we know all too well that that economic crises also have a tendency to spill over borders, leading not only to massive unemployment, inflation, and hunger, but often to disastrous wars.
But global solutions to global crises can only come about if governments look beyond their national borders; and this, in turn, depends on having citizens who understand and appreciate not only the variety and complexity of different nations, but also their profound interdependence.
We believe that study abroad plays a key role in creating just such citizens. As international educators, we are deeply committed to providing our students with the tools they need to build bridges, to understand difference, to engage in dialogue, to reject stereotypes, and to go beyond the notion that we live in a world where it has to be “chacun pour soi.”
With the arrival of several vaccines in the next few months, the APUAF and its members are convinced that there will be a rebound of interest in study abroad, and we are eagerly looking forward to working with a new generation of American students as we face the challenges of a post-Covid world.
Strasbourg, December 22, 2020