Assessing the Future of Study Abroad Programs

Tori Wiese, a senior from Marquette, stands in front of Machu Picchu in Peru where a class session was held before she was flown back to the United States during the onset of the Pandemic. Going forward, the college is working to figure out how to reinstate study abroad programs in a safe manner (Photo courtesy of Tori Wiese).

Study abroad programs were some of the most profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Limitations on travel have changed the landscape of study abroad programs and halted others altogether.

“They changed primarily because of the travel restrictions in the world, so international students coming to the United States, many of their countries are on lockdown, the airline industries have reduced their flights to get to and from the united states so for many students it has been difficult,” said Cristen Casey, the director of Albion College’s center for international education.

 According to Casey, international students who want to study in the U.S. and U.S. students who want to study internationally are facing similar challenges with regard to the timeline in which they can study outside of their country of residence. Currently, timelines for most students have postponed programs by about a year. So, students who wanted to study abroad in the fall 2020 or spring 2021 semesters were deferred to next fall, depending on the scope of the pandemic at that point in time.

“For study abroad, many countries are not having in-person study abroad programs, so we’ve had to cancel Albion students’ participating both for the fall, spring and the summer this year,” said Casey. 

In the meantime, the college implemented creative changes to combat the struggle that students face with lacking the opportunity to travel and learn at the same time.

“Making opportunities domestically available like the Philadelphia center, Duke Marine Lab,” said Casey. “There are several programs in the United States and the advantage of, that is if COVID-19 goes left, then the students can easily get back to their home base, either to Albion or to wherever they live.” 

One of Casey’s struggles is the uncertainty that COVID-19 brings for how things will be for study abroad following the pandemic. 

“So, we are hoping in the fall, students will be able to study abroad, and a decision is going to be made in probably late May about fall international travel,” said Casey. “We are encouraging students to have a plan A, which is the study abroad, and a plan B, which might include domestic study or staying on campus for the fall.”

 Albion hasn’t only made adjustments as far as domestic and international educational programs. The college has made plans for on-campus international education as well. Given that studying abroad is a requirement for some majors, not having the opportunity can affect students’ eligibility to meet the requirements for their degrees.

“We’ve been working with departments for alternatives,” said Casey. “So, for example, the modern language department has been working with students to get their language requirements if they are not able to study abroad.  The academic departments have been really flexible where needed, because it’s not the student’s fault, or it’s not anything that the college can control. We want to have the least amount of impact on students and the maximum amount of participation from students.”.

As much as the college is doing to try to give students alternatives on the way back to normalcy, Casey said she recognizes that no amount of accommodations on campus can replicate a study abroad experience.

“With COVID-19, there are a lot of regulations regarding travel and immigration. There is just a whole lot of uncertainty, but I have to say the hardest part is knowing the impact that study abroad has and wanting everyone to have that opportunity,” said Casey. “Realizing that there are students who can’t take advantage of that, and it’s such an impactful practice – I know how great it can be. To just know they can’t have that experience because of COVID-19 is difficult.”

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