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Study Away Option Prompts Mixed Reactions from International Students

The Bodleian Library is the main research library at the University of Oxford.
The Bodleian Library is the main research library at the University of Oxford. By Shera S. Avi-Yonah
By Kevin A. Simauchi, Crimson Staff Writer

International students who planned to pursue their studies at their local universities this semester have had to grapple with grueling applications, uncertainty over the transferability of their class credits, and conflicting deadlines.

These challenges have pushed some Harvard students living outside of the United States to put their college education on pause as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Others, especially those in the United Kingdom, were able to continue their studies at universities abroad with little disruption.

On July 15, Harvard College announced that it would allow international undergraduates to pursue a study away option. College students living abroad would be able to enroll and transfer credits from accredited programs in their home countries. Several students said they were initially pleased about the possibility of choosing from a wider variety of classes and having greater flexibility in their schedules.

Those who pursued study away were asked to complete their local university’s application process and discuss courses they would like to apply towards their concentration with their department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies or head tutor.

William H.W. Wu ’22, who is now enrolled at National Taiwan University, described that process as nightmarish.

“I only got one course that I got from the lottery and approved by Harvard,” Wu said.

After communicating with Harvard’s Office of International Education, Wu reasoned that because he only had one transferable class credit, his course load at National Taiwan University did not merit enrolling at Harvard. He eventually decided to declare a leave of absence.

“I feel like just transferring that one-course credit and [having] to basically forgo a semester at Harvard, it's just unreasonable and also very wasteful because being at Harvard—it's the core of the experience,” Wu added.

Noah Miles ’23 also had plans to pursue study away by enrolling at Australian National University. Like Wu, though, he eventually decided to take a leave of absence, citing scheduling concerns.

Harvard’s announcement of the study away program came 14 days after Australian National University’s second semester began. Had Miles continued to push for his enrollment at ANU, he would have been asked to move from his home in Adelaide to ANU’s campus, enroll, and start classes in just three days.

“Ultimately, the timing didn’t work out,” Miles said.

For students living in the United Kingdom, however, the study away option was more viable. A total of 13 Harvard students were able to apply and enroll as visiting students at the University of Oxford within a month of the study away program’s inception.

Naomi Freud, Fellow and Director of Studies for Registered Visiting Students at St. Catherine’s College at the University of Oxford described those three weeks as a “positive frenzy of activity.”

Freud said she closely followed the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s ruling that would have barred students on F-1 visas from returning to the United States if they could not take an in-person course.

In light of ICE’s announcement, Freud reached out to Harvard’s Office of International Education on July 11 to see if there was any way she could help students. After Harvard and MIT sued the ICE and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to counter their ruling, the agencies agreed to rescind the policy.

“We had a series of meetings on Saturday and Sunday [July 11 and 12], and then the first person to send in their application was on the 14th of July,” Freud said. “So from the 11th to the 14th we were setting it up and then the last student applied—he got in—it was on the fifth of August.”

Over the years, Harvard has sent in a number of visiting students to St. Catherine’s College, making it easier to facilitate communication between institutions.

“Students from Harvard have been coming to St. Catherine's for some time and I've met them personally,” Freud said. “So, we know each other very well.”

The Office of International Education’s established links meant that British students generally knew who to contact and could expect their plan of study to transfer between Harvard and Oxford.

Angela C. Eichhorst ’22 said she knew other British students from Harvard also enrolling at Oxford.

“I felt like other people had talked to OIE a lot more and then I kind of took a bit of a shortcut because other people put in more of the legwork first,” Eichhorst, a Crimson magazine editor, said. “People on this British group chat were like sending each other helpful emails that people could contact, so I would then talk to those people at the OIE or at Oxford.”

Humza K. Mahmood ’23, another British student enrolling at Worcester College at the University of Oxford, mentioned he was looking forward to getting involved in activities and on-campus life — an aspect of college that he would not be able to have during a remote semester at Harvard.

“I’m on a bit of an adventure, but closer to home,” Mahmood said.

—Staff writer Kevin A. Simauchi can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @simauchi.

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