MISSOULA – University of Montana sophomore Christian Newby spent the summer with his suitcase packed and fingers crossed.
Like hundreds of other Grizzlies, the Whitefish native had hoped to study abroad this year, but the continuing COVID-19 pandemic has put a full stop to his Japan adventure for now. The situation will change, he’s convinced, but it may be a year or more before he can finally pursue his passion to learn more about Japanese culture.
For junior Taylor Curry, travel to France was possible because of its low levels of COVID-19 infection rates. The political science and French major, now studying at Université Jean Moulin in Lyon, knew his chance to go overseas was precarious at best, requiring more fortitude than normal to navigate the process.
“We were warned early on that the trip could be canceled any day, even on the eve of departure, but if we wanted any chance at going we had to complete every task required of an ordinary year with the addition of COVID requirements,” said Curry, who is from Great Falls. “Luckily, UM’s study abroad oﬃce proved a ﬁerce ally for us students, and I’m sure I owe my being here to their advocacy.”
Curry and Newby’s stories illustrate how the pandemic has made efforts to place students and faculty abroad such a challenge. With many universities across the nation continuing to forgo study abroad, it’s something of a triumph, then, for UM to place nine students and a handful of faculty members overseas this fall.
Donna Anderson, senior international officer and executive director of UM’s Global Engagement Office, credits the success they have had to UM’s commitment to keeping their international office open during the pandemic, along with a well-developed process for approving travel that involves the Curry Heath Center, risk management, the legal office, the Provost’s office and the Global Engagement Office.
“It required tremendous effort, but we now have a great infrastructure in place which not every institution has,” Anderson said. “We’re very fortunate.”
Keeping all of the pieces moving in sync has required staff to monitor the travel status of multiple countries on an almost daily basis. Due to Montana University System guidance prohibiting travel to Centers for Disease Control Level 4 countries at this time, UM students are only allowed to travel to countries where the CDC rates Level 3 or lower, said Marja Unkuri-Chaudhry, associate director of the Global Engagement Office.
“We had students ready to go to Ireland, but then it popped up to Level 4 so they couldn’t go,” Unkuri-Chaudhry said.
Graphic design student Rebecca Vann transferred from Montana State University to UM for the opportunity to study in Spain, but it, too, is now Level 4. A senior, Vann said this spring will be her last chance as a student to practice her Spanish abroad.
“I speak Spanish, but I’d certainly like to be better,” said Vann, who credited Unkuri-Chaudhry and her staff for their focus on supporting students attempting to study abroad.
“We communicate with students on a regular basis, and all of them knew what the pandemic meant,” said Unkuri-Chaudhry. “But still it is heartbreaking for students. We are keen to help them in other ways whenever possible, including looking to switch them to other programs.”
Planning is now in the works for spring 2022 programs, when the University hopes to revive 36 global study abroad programs. This will include coordinating with UM’s counterpart universities throughout the world.
“It will be a heavy lift, but we’re excited,” Unkuri-Chaudhry said.
With fall semester in full swing, Newby said his initial frustration has subsided, and he is convinced his chance to study in Japan will eventually happen.
“There are so many benefits to studying abroad,” said Newby, who is majoring in cellular molecular neuroscience, or “brain stuff.”
“The benefits are scholastic but also personal and professional.”
After a few months in France, Curry is acclimating to life and study abroad.
“I feel well established and inﬁnitely grateful to the UM study abroad oﬃce, which got me here,” he said. “I’m hopeful that more students will soon be able to have the rich immersion that I’m living.”
Contact: Donna Anderson, senior international officer and executive director of UM’s Global Engagement Office, 406-243-2288, email@example.com; Marja Unkuri-Chaudhry, associate director of the Global Engagement Office and director of Education Abroad and Partnerships, 406-243-2296, firstname.lastname@example.org.