The Disappearance of Study Abroad
A year ago, I was recovering from an intensely busy academic year.
In 2018-2019, I had taught a total of 17 full credit classes. Nine of those had been in the spring semester. This is a little higher than usual, but not by much. Nearly all of my colleagues teaching in international programs here routinely teach six or seven classes each semester, out of necessity. Adjunct pay is clearly about 1/3 what it should be.
Seven of those seventeen were for one employer, The Catholic University of America, who thanked me for my six years of teaching and advising, marked by my willingness to go above and beyond in teaching new classes, teaching outside my field to cover for administrative failures, and even taking on extra classes in the first week of the semester... by not renewing my contract without notice or explanation. My immediate supervisor was as confounded as I was. No one 'back home' would even acknowledge my inquiries. Nothing but positive evaluations had preceded it. I simply have no explanation for it.
A whole new level of imposter syndrome creeps in: "What could I possibly have done that was so bad that they won't even tell me what happened? That they act like I don't exist now?" Déjà vu to middle school!
So, I entered 2019-2020 with half my usual work and income, and the insecurity and lack of closure one gets from being inexplicably—unethically—ghosted.
As spring 2020 began, I still had a seriously reduced course load: only four classes and J-term. I felt like an unemployed bum.
On Saturday 29 February, I was scheduled to take two classes to visit the catacombs of Priscilla and then the Grand Mosque. At a little past midnight that morning, the program that operated our study abroad program sent out an email to the students (but not the faculty) notifying them that the program was cancelled and they were being sent home. I arrived at our meeting point to find three empty vans and 90% of my students responding they were not coming because of the announcement (that I had not yet seen).
We, too, went to online teaching mid-semester, but with students coming from multiple time zones, all of which at least six hours different than mine, synchronous live classes proved impossible.
Except in one case, mostly older students. Nothing lifts the spirits like a 60-something Scotsman who can't figure out Zoom for the third week in a row, let me tell you!
After the intensity of prepping asynchronous learning materials mid-stream and trying to track down a couple of my better students suddenly off the grid, sudden silence. All summer programs were cancelled. All fall classes, cancelled.
While I have been watching colleagues stateside complain about having multiple conditions and back up plans, about whether campus is open or closed, and preparing to teach online, mixed, and in person... we have nothing.
Obviously, there's no study abroad right now. Few international students are coming in to the Roman institutions. But that means no classes—not even online, because how do you put study abroad online? And even the courses that could well be done without the unique local components, we are already doubly "out of sight and out of mind," thousands of miles from home campus and contingent.
So, no work since early May, and as of right now, it looks like Fall 2021 might be the first opportunity for more. Time to get writing done, but guess how quickly you are dropped from online database access when you have no active contract?