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Some students plan to study abroad as seniors after programs were canceled this year

Like many students, Dan Garcia was frustrated when his junior-year study abroad plans were canceled—two semesters in a row. 

“I was really big on Duke In Berlin and I wanted to spend my whole junior year in Berlin,” Garcia said. “I had been accepted, I was set to go, and I was really excited. Then the pandemic happened, so everything got washed away.”

Many juniors’ plans of spending a semester abroad were foiled with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. But with the end of the pandemic in sight, some are planning to study abroad during their senior fall semester.

“I knew I only had one more semester to do it, so I applied again, and now I’m going to Berlin,” Garcia said.

Compared to a typical semester, three times as many rising seniors have applied to fall 2021 Duke-In programs, said Amanda Kelso, executive director of the Global Education Office.

The GEO is expecting a similar increase in rising senior applicants to Duke-Approved programs, but it’s still too early to know because applications are still open, Kelso said. Duke-In programs are led and organized by the University, while Duke-Approved programs are sponsored by other providers but approved by a committee of Duke faculty.

Junior Arya Patel is applying to study abroad through a Duke-Approved program. “My whole thing was that I’m going to get away from everything that’s Duke,” she said. “I want to live locally and immerse myself in a new culture.”

“I always wanted to go to Latin America and have a grassroots experience with a homestay, but due to COVID-19 and other factors, they canceled a lot of those programs,” Patel said. “I decided to go to Asia instead, and currently I’m applying to programs in Singapore and Korea because I think those cultures would be really unique.”

Studying abroad during senior year can be a difficult decision. “Before, it was really unpopular for seniors to study abroad because everyone wanted to be together for the final year,” Patel said.

Patel admitted that she struggled to decide between a traditional senior year and a semester abroad. 

“Being in quarantine for the past year, I want to have the full Duke experience again. But at the same time, I really value what I might get out of study abroad. I have to make that tradeoff, which is sad,” Patel said. “In regular circumstances, I wouldn’t have had to.”

The GEO is preparing for the increased interest in studying abroad. 

“We are balancing pandemic planning with an expected surge in applications, so we encourage all Duke students to create multiple plans. Interested students should work with GEO advisors, attend info sessions online, and discuss their plans with academic advisors and mentors,” Kelso said.

Despite studying abroad during an unconventional semester, members of the Class of 2022 are excited for the experience. 

“A huge part of my friend group is all studying abroad this fall,” Garcia said. “In junior year, we all decided to go abroad to Europe and meet up during the semester. That got canceled, so now we’re all going together this coming semester.”

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