Students, advisors mourn the temporary loss of study abroad programs

Maxey Parrish, senior lecturer in the department of journalism, public relations and new media, has coordinated study abroad programs at the university for over 25 years. One of these programs includes Baylor in Budapest. Photo courtesy of Shae Koharski.

By Lucy Ruscitto | Staff Writer

Along with the recent universal delaying and cancellation of many other activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, study abroad trips were one of the many affected programs at Baylor University.

Maxey Parrish, senior lecturer in the department of journalism, public relations and new media, has coordinated study abroad programs at the university for over 25 years.

Parrish is currently is in charge of the Baylor in Budapest program, although he used to be the director and founder of Baylor in Florence and was the director of Baylor in Maastricht three times.

“I was scheduled to direct the Baylor in St. Andrews program this fall. Instead [of] sweltering under 105° in Waco, I was supposed to be strolling down the beach in 65-degree Scotland,” Parrish said.

The Woodlands junior Sara Loyo was supposed to attend the St. Louis University at Madrid study abroad program that Baylor offers for the fall 2020 semester.

“I wanted to go there specifically just because I really like Madrid, and obviously I wanted to study abroad since before I went to college,” Loyo said.

Loyo said her plans were slightly modified to fit the lack of the study abroad program that she had anticipated, specifically in terms of her academic schedule.

“I did change a few classes [this semester] just in order to ensure that I would be able to find classes to do as a senior,” she said. “I started putting senior level classes this semester and more specific courses for my majors that would be harder to find there [in Madrid].”

Parrish said his summer plans were changed as well to fit COVID-19’s narrative, as he navigated the adjustments and unexpected extra time spent at home.

“Between Budapest, St. Andrews and a separate teaching assignment I have every summer at the Center for European Studies in the Netherlands, I’d planned to spend seven months out of the country in 2020,” Parrish said. “Instead, I didn’t put a single stamp in my passport and learned how to use Canvas and Kaltura. So the impact on me personally was profound.”

While both Loyo and Parrish said they were initially disappointed, neither said they were shocked when the news broke regarding Baylor’s cancellation of all study abroad programs for summer and fall 2020.

“I originally decided before they officially got canceled that I wasn’t going to go,” Loyo said.

Loyo said that she didn’t want her experience to feel lesser than what it could’ve been during a more typical, COVID-19-free semester. She said she also didn’t feel comfortable putting herself and her health at risk.

Parrish said that although he believes Baylor administration made the correct decision on behalf of the safety of Baylor staff and students involved in study abroad programs, he is less let-down for himself and much more concerned for his students.

“And I wasn’t so much disappointed for myself, even though I love doing this. I was disappointed for the students who’ll never get to go,” Parrish said. “I see more growth in students during five weeks abroad than in their four years at Baylor. And to know many students would miss that really hurt.”

According to IES Abroad, a nonprofit centered around providing international education opportunities, a study has shown that studying abroad is one of the best ways for recent college graduates to find jobs quicker following graduation, as well as occupations related to their major with greater salaries.

The study found that almost 90% of study abroad students were hired for their first job within six months of graduation. That is compared to 49% of college graduates in general.

Parrish said that he also wants to encourage students that do still have the ability to attend a study abroad program or programs to do so.

“Don’t give up on the dream. Please try to go again,” Parrish said.

Loyo said that thankfully, she is not yet one of the students who had their last chance to ever attend another study abroad program in 2020.

“It was definitely sad, but since I am a junior… I still have the opportunity to do it at some other point, hopefully, if there’s an end to this soon,” Loyo said. “If I don’t get the chance to go abroad, I was especially feel grateful that Baylor allowed us to come back and I can feel like have that experience here on campus with like my friends that I’ve gotten close to. So I’m really grateful that Baylor is making that happen for all of us.”

Parrish said like Loyo, who is thankful for the way Baylor has handled her junior year, he is very appreciative of the university’s decorum in managing the study abroad programs.

“Baylor has been very gracious and generous through this whole process. I have to admit that I’ve struggled with this. A big part of my life, in fact the thing I love most professionally, was taken away by this virus, and there have been times when it got me down,” he said. “But the journalism department, Center for Global Engagement and provost’s office have been there for me. I’m grateful.”

Additionally, Parrish said he feels hopeful that Baylor will allow students to attend such programs in 2021.

“We are making arrangements to go in 2021. The itinerary may be different, but we plan to go. Unless, of course, the pandemic won’t allow it. I sincerely hope the students who are still in school and planned to go last year can go. And all journalism majors who meet the university’s criteria are more than welcome,” Parrish said. “The students going to Budapest and St. Andrews received full refunds, and everyone, including our travel agent, worked to make sure I wasn’t out anything. Baylor handled everything in a first-class manner, which I appreciate so much.”

Parrish said that while he is appreciative of the time he has gotten at home, the juxtaposition between the conditions of his study abroad programs this year and years past is immense, and he knows that his students are feeling the pandemic’s weight as well.

“Contrasting teaching overseas, where I’m in daily contact, sometimes all-day contact with students, to doing it online, I can’t imagine a greater difference,” Parrish said. “Last spring one of my students emailed and asked if we could talk by phone. We connected, and she just said she wanted to hear the voice of someone at Baylor. And believe me, I understood. I miss my students. At least my dog is happy. His bed is beside my desk, and he loves having me home all day.”