When it comes to readjusting college lifestyles as institutions change their policies regarding the pandemic, in-person learning is not only going to be a big change for regular students, but also for students who plan to study abroad. While study abroad has been promoted as an opportunity for students to gain hands-on experiential learning in a foreign culture, it now comes with several heavy burdens ranging from safety concerns, travel restrictions and potentially coming home early. Students going abroad this semester may be some of the first who have to worry about a fast-spreading virus on top of everything else that comes with traveling to a new country.
As an incoming senior studying abroad in Lugano, Switzerland, this fall, I have already pushed back and adjusted my courses of study, taken extra COVID-19 precautions to ensure smooth international travel and accepted the limitations of traveling in Europe based on COVID-19 regulations in each country. Like everyone else in my program, I will have to provide a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours prior to leaving the country. If anyone is unable to provide a test result or a negative test, they will not be able to participate in the program, demonstrating one aspect of the uncertainty of study abroad.
Moreover, the progress of vaccinations as well as COVID-19 positive cases can impact the experience of studying abroad for students leaving and entering the United States. In my case, the rates of COVID-19 vaccinations in Switzerland have increased over the past few months, whereas in Virginia, vaccination rates have decreased since May. The increase in vaccination rates in Switzerland may mean that my peers and I will have more travel freedom and leniency on mask-wearing as the upcoming months progress, whereas students entering the United States may have to adjust to tighter COVID-19 restrictions.
Despite all of the limitations, testing and complications that may come along with studying abroad during the pandemic, schools are still pushing for students to take advantage of the opportunity. According to the Forum on Education Abroad, out of 216 colleges and universities, 44% said that they would continue study abroad programs this fall. Additionally, recent research from the education company Cialfo has found that as many 60% of students out of a group of 3,785 who plan to study internationally in college stated that the pandemic had no impact on their intentions.
After missing out on going abroad last semester, this is my final chance to achieve that study abroad experience that college students blabber on about for months later. Knowing the risks, uncertainty, limitations to traveling and the potential for a third wave of COVID-19, I still believe that the opportunity to have a life-changing learning experience is worth it, even if we get kicked out by week five. This won’t be the traditional study abroad experience that I expected, but it will surely be something unique and memorable that I can look back on for years to come.