Every single class and semester was completely planned out for junior anthropology major Alison Haas — she would graduate next spring and complete her necessary high-impact learning requirement by spending two weeks in Croatia over the summer.
Her plans of researching bioarchaeology in the Balkans were nipped in the bud when UCF sent her an email informing her that, along with her trip, all study abroad trips through the spring and into the summer semesters were canceled due to mounting concerns about COVID-19.
"I just wish there had been a bit more of a heads up that they might have been planning on canceling it," Haas said.
With global travel advisory reaching a Level 4, the cancellation of UCF study abroad programs came after the U.S. State Department strongly advised against Americans traveling outside the U.S., unless absolutely necessary, to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.
However, Haas said that fast communication on the university's part seemed to be lacking.
“I actually received an email from the school, in general, and it mentioned that all study abroad was canceled," Haas said. "But I didn’t actually hear from anyone from [the study abroad program] until maybe two days later, giving the official 'it has been canceled.'”
As Haas was left seeking answers, she believed the email was not as comprehensive as it could have been for announcing the cancellation of a massive part of her academic plan for the year.
“They just explained that it was just to be safe, and they also said that if this was a credit that was needed for summer or fall graduation to talk to the advisors," Haas said. "But other than that, there wasn’t much more besides, 'we’re sorry this happened, this and that.'"
Haas said that she became stressed as she was forced to completely switch around her schedule for the coming semesters after meeting with her professor, but she understands the health concerns that led to this.
"I’m supposed to be graduating next spring and I had all my courses planned out. So I had to rearrange everything to fit a new high impact learning,” Haas said.
Luckily, Haas said she found a solution by arranging to conduct research with her professor as opposed to relying on studying abroad for her required credit. Haas can choose between either faculty-led field or laboratory research under the department of anthropology.
Seeing both sides of the situation, Haas said she recognized that the university attempted to make the best of a largely unforeseen situation.
"As far as I remember, this is one of the first times something like this has happened, so I understand it’s not gonna be perfect," Haas said. "It’s probably the best they can do right now.”
If UCF could do anything differently, Haas wishes the university could provide more clarity and a quicker "heads up" if such an event were to happen again in the future. According to Haas, UCF announced the trip cancellation despite Croatia only having a Level 1 travel advisory.
On UCF Global's website, an alert has been posted detailing their decision to restrict university-sponsored travel.
"Per university policy, UCF Global restricts travel to any country or region designated by the Center for Disease and Control as a Level 4 or by the Department of State Level 3 or 4," the alert said. "All university sponsored travel to international destinations is restricted pursuant UCF Policy 2-903."
UCF spokeswoman Heather Smith has also sent out emails ensuring students that UCF Abroad has reached out to students affected by the study abroad program cancellation, such as Haas.
"UCF has sent multiple campus-wide communications announcing the cancelation of study abroad trips, and UCF Abroad is working closely with individual students to address their circumstances," Smith said in an email.
Haas said there was a disconnect, given that Croatia had not yet reached a Level 3 travel health advisory.
"I had been told that the CDC was keeping watch with travel advisory and if it reached a Level 3 then it would be canceled," Haas said. "But Croatia went from a level one to being canceled right away."
According to the CDC, a Level 3 travel health notice warrants an avoidance of all nonessential travel to a specific country.
Haas is still on track to graduate next spring and managed to get her classes in order with the help of her professor and advisors.