Third-year Beatrice Chao had her SESP practicum all planned out. After
all, the practicum was one of the main reasons she decided to come to
Northwestern University and study social policy in the first place. Chao
planned to go to Washington, D.C., to work in government or at a think
tank this summer.
Then the pandemic struck, and it seemed unlikely that she could follow
her original arrangements. Chao ended up reworking her entire plan and
completed her practicum in her home country of Singapore this past Fall
When Northwestern’s classes moved online, so did other academic
programs, like study abroad, SESP’s practicum and Medill’s Journalism
Residency. Three quarters later, remote programming has become an
indefinite replacement for these highly anticipated experiences. The
SESP curriculum requires its third-years to spend one quarter at an
academic internship in San Francisco or Washington, D.C. and enroll in a
concurrent seminar for hands- on learning.
When the University went remote, SESP relaxed its requirements.
Internship sites were no longer limited to certain cities. Students
could choose to reschedule their practicum, complete it remotely or
enroll in substitute SESP classes to fulfill the practicum requirement.
But Chao said that most of her peers still chose to complete their
practicum, even remotely, because they found it to be a good alternative
to online classes.
“Though it’s challenging to do in a pandemic, people still look forward
to it,” Chao says. “The practicum is a draw of the SESP program.
Chao was able to intern in-person at Singapore’s Ministry of Health. She
says she loved working at her site and continued to work there even
after her practicum ended. Still, she had hoped to work in a different
country than her own.
“It [would have been] really cool to be able to look at social policy
from the lens of a different government, a different country,” Chao
says. “So I was kind of bummed that it didn’t end up happening.”
Studying in another country was an experience Weinberg third-year Sarah
Kim knew she wanted even before coming to Northwestern. It’s one of the
reasons she chose Global Health as her adjunct major.
One requirement to earn a Global Health major is to participate in an
international public health experience. But when the pandemic began, all
study abroad programs were put on hold. Kim was set to study public
health in Denmark in Fall Quarter of 2020. Then, the program was
postponed to the fall of 2021, and now Kim says she’s unsure if it will
Though study abroad is no longer a requirement for Global Health, Kim
says she’s holding out hope that it will return before she graduates.
Kim says that while she enjoys the Global Health classes she’s taking,
she still feels like she’s missing a component of her major.
“Without the study abroad aspect, it loses some of its global- ness. I
am learning a lot about the different histories and health systems
around the world, but I think seeing for myself, hearing from people who
are from other countries explaining what their global health systems
look like would be very helpful,” Kim says.
On the other hand, Wilson Chapman, a Medill fourth-year, completed his
Journalism Residency (JR) remotely during Fall Quarter of 2020 because
he realized it was unlikely that internships would be in-person again
before he graduated.
“THAT DOESN’T MEAN THAT YOU DON’T WALK OUT WITH RICH EXPERIENCES. BUT I
FEEL LIKE LESS OF A COLLEGE STUDENT.”
SESP THIRD-YEAR BEATRICE CHAO
Chapman credits the JR program as one of the reasons why he transferred
into Medill during his first year at Northwestern. Similar to SESP’s
practicum, Medill’s JR program is a required quarter- long academic
internship at one of its media partners. Chapman says he liked that the
program ensured professional experience and provided an opportunity to
network and get professional clips.
Like many programs at Northwestern, Medill’s JR program hit a patch of
uncertainty during March and was canceled for Spring Quarter of 2020.
When it resumed Fall Quarter, JR was no longer a graduation requirement
and was offered mostly remotely. Chapman ended up interning remotely at
“Even though it was a good experience, I do think being remote does make
the experience a little less meaningful. It makes it a little harder to
connect with the people you’re working with,” Chapman says. “A lot of
the time, we had maybe one 20-minute Zoom meeting a day, and then I
would spend the rest of the day working on my computer in my room, on my
Chapman says having his residency online amplified the feeling of
disconnection from Northwestern that he experienced when classes first
“When I just wasn’t doing any classes and was just doing Zoom
internship, it felt like I wasn’t a student. It felt like I had already
graduated,” Chapman says.
Chao’s status as an international student added another layer to her
disconnection. She says that when she lived in Evanston, she was able to
totally immerse herself in the country and culture. Being forced online,
however, completely disrupted that immersion.
“It’s disappointing for sure, but it’s hard to say that I feel cheated
out of an experience because of the pandemic,” Chao says. “It’s hard to
say it’s unfair because I couldn’t offer a fairer alternative, and I
think people are trying really hard to make the best of the situation.”
Like many students at Northwestern, Chao feels that her college
experience since the pandemic has been a compromise.
“You walk out with less college. That doesn’t mean that you don’t walk
out with rich experiences,” Chao says, remembering how much she enjoyed
her practicum. “But I feel like less of a college student.”