CMC international students frustrated by cancellation of London residential program

A multi-story red brick apartment building against a blue sky.
CMC has canceled its spring London residential program amind COVID-19 concerns, leaving many international students frustrated. (Yasmin Elqutami • The Student Life)

International students were left frustrated when Claremont McKenna College abandoned its plans to administer its previously announced spring London residential program

Registered students received the news in a Jan. 4 email from CMC Dean of Students Dianna Graves, who cited the state of COVID-19 transmission in the U.K. as the reason for the “difficult” decision.

The cancellation comes two months after the initial December announcement of the program to CMC’s international student community, which delivered on President Hiram Chodosh’s promise to remedy the unique time zone barriers faced by international students. 

The College’s collaboration with the Institute for the International Education of Students, or IES Abroad, would have allowed CMC students who were F-1 visa holders or who had a permanent address outside of the United States to reside at the IES Abroad Bloomsbury location from Jan. 21 to May 15 while taking a full courseload of 5C classes remotely, according to previous TSL coverage.

To meet the tight application deadline of Dec. 8 — one week after the announcement of the program — CMC administrators and program organizers hosted information sessions via Zoom to answer interested participants’ questions. 

Updated program descriptions and FAQs sent by Graves to students Dec. 5 outlined a frenzy of protocols program participants would be required to prepare, from completing visa applications to undertaking medical exams.

Despite earnest steps to move the program forward, students’ hopes were dashed Dec. 22 when they received an email from Graves addressing the impacts of the “sudden surge and spread of COVID-19 in the U.K.” Additional public health orders and travel restrictions impacted the viability of the CMC in London program, although it had not officially been canceled at this point. 

Graves directed students to proceed with their visa applications if they required one to enter the U.K., but told them to halt all travel arrangements to London and not spend meal stipend funds prior to the start of the program.

In the event that CMC would be unable to continue with the program in London, Graves said the program would facilitate the return of previously disbursed meal stipends to the college as well as reimburse visa application fees and travel costs to program participants. 

“The health and safety of our CMC students remain the highest priority as we evaluate the viability of CMC in London,” Graves said. “Based on how the situation evolves over the next two weeks, we will make a final determination about the program and communicate to you no later than January 5.”

Registered CMC in London participants then received no email communication from the program organizers for almost two weeks following the Dec. 22 email, according to Diya Courty-Stephens CM ’23, a Canadian resident who had registered for the program but found the lack of communication “disheartening.”

“They left it up in the air for about two weeks about whether or not we were actually going to London, and a lot of people had applied for their visas. I didn’t face much of these challenges myself, because for Canada it’s a lot easier to travel to the U.K. But we had a group chat going, and a lot of people were getting frustrated with the problem of communication because people were booking their flights and all of a sudden it was halted,” Courty-Stephens said. 

On Jan. 4, Graves informed participants via email that they had closely monitored the health conditions in London for the past two weeks only to find that the situation surrounding COVID-19 had not improved. 

“Indeed, COVID-19 infection rates and hospitalizations continue to climb throughout the U.K. and London, now far exceeding the daily case rate of even Los Angeles County,” Graves said. She further referenced British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move to “[impose] a national lockdown effective immediately until at least mid-February.”

Just 17 days before students would have set foot in the Bloomsbury location, Graves issued a decisive email on the program’s cancellation. 

Unfortunately, due to these recent developments in the U.K., in consultation with our IES partners in London, we have made the difficult decision to cancel this program for Spring 2021,” she said. 

The email instructed registered participants to return their meal stipends of $3,050 and any travel stipends previously disbursed to them by the college. CMC kept its commitment of covering any non-refundable costs associated with canceled travel plans booked prior to Graves’ Dec. 22 email and also reimbursed students up to $100 in visa application fees.

With international students still facing difficult time zone adjustments after all, they received case-by-case assistance from academic advisers to determine course schedules that worked best for them in their respective time zones, CMC spokesperson Gilien Silsby told TSL. Some, Silsby said, were able to return to the U.S. if they had active SEVIS records.

The cancellation of CMC in London comes at the heels of the CMC in Shanghai program being canceled, which was launched in conjunction with the London program. The Shanghai program was shut down Dec. 8 due to a change in course requirements required by the Chinese Ministry of Education, Graves said in a Dec. 8 email to some international students.

“We are both fully committed and very optimistic for a fall semester return, and exploring all ways to support international students as they address and work through any and all barriers to return to Claremont,” Silsby told TSL via email Feb. 24.

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