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UTK fall study abroad program going virtual

As the pandemic presents challenges for the upcoming school year, the university is looking for new experiences to give students.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The pandemic brought lots of changes for students of all ages across the country - including the cancellation of study abroad trips for those in college.

Last year, the University of Tennessee had around 1,500 students study abroad and they expected around 1,000 to go this summer until programs were cancelled.

"If COVID-19 never happened, right now I would be in Prague, Czech Republic working at an internship at a production studio," said upcoming UTK senior Madeline Cain.

Cain is one of many students who had to change their summer study abroad plans. 

"It was definitely disappointing. I was also preparing for something to happen like this," explained Cain. "UTK did a really good job of making sure we were aware this was a potential outcome."

The university made the tough decision to cancel spring, summer and fall study abroad trips. Students already on site were brought back and pivoted to online models so they could still get credit for their courses.

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As for those who hadn't left yet, there were a few options: wait and see what the following spring and summer semesters bring, or do a virtual course.

"Those students were hopeful and encouraged at what might be possible," said Anne Hulse, Interim Director of Programs Abroad. "As we cancelled those options many chose to defer to a different semester than forego the abroad experience."

While it's no replacement for the traditional experience, the virtual courses allow students to take online classes from an international school while in the states.

"We look at this as a potential opportunity to find creative ways to integrate international and inter-cultural learning into our curriculum," said Hulse.

It's still too early to know what the spring and future semesters will look like for study abroad, but the university will continue to monitor the global situation as it comes time to make those decisions.

If travel becomes a safe option halfway through the school year they might consider looking at hybrid options for students who have been taking online courses.

Hulse said study abroad students from the states are not the only ones seeing challenges.

"We see our international students coming here impacted and our scholars who come to teach and research. There is a proud field of international community that is impacted by the pandemic and we are trying to work through those pieces and whats best for our campus and community," said Hulse.

Earlier this month, ICE notified colleges that international students would be forced to leave the U.S. or transfer to another college if their school chooses to operate online this fall.

Right now, a federal lawsuit by Harvard and MIT looks to block this decision

RELATED: Harvard, MIT sue to block ICE rule on international students

RELATED: ICE says foreign students can't take online-only classes amid pandemic

As for Madeline Cain, she's staying positive and is hopeful things will look different next summer.

"It's a very valuable experience to have an internship abroad, opens you up to a different culture and you can learn more than here in the states. Hopefully in the future I'll be able to go back."