Study abroad programs are making a comeback after countless cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many students are ready to jump into the process of continuing their education overseas.
Students can expect a relatively similar process in studying abroad as the past, Associate Dean of International Programs Brian D. Harley said in an email.
“Along with COVID precautions, most preparation tasks are similar, yet some will require extra student timeliness (e.g. increased processing time to obtain a U.S. passport, completing applications for the host program, booking a flight) for practical reasons,” Harley said.
Program directors have unanswered questions surrounding the vitality and feasibility of some of the programs, though.
Colin Gray, associate professor of computer graphics technology and the program director for a spring break study abroad program scheduled in China, said some programs are experiencing more difficulties than others.
“(The trip to China is) a little bit tenuous at the moment,” Gray said. “There’s maybe only a 20% chance that China is going to run.”
Gray said China’s travel restrictions require a 14-day quarantine period for visitors entering the country right now, making a spring break study abroad trip to that area impractical, if not impossible.
Program directors are working with travel organizations to provide students with an alternative if their program is cancelled.
“Fortunately, we have the other United Kingdom programs we’re able to shift some of the people to,” Gray said.
Should the study abroad trip be canceled, Gray said he’s hopeful for a full refund for the students.
“In the pandemic year, all the study abroad students for China got their money back in full,” he said. “We were still able to support some of them doing optional activities that they could still get course credit they were counting on.”
Though cancellation is a significant fear, Anita Dale, a professor in the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management, said she’s hoping for a successful trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, given all the precautions the university has taken.
“We are very sensitive as leaders to ‘How do we plan a trip in the event that there was a COVID issue?’” Dale said. “For example, we’re planning for double occupancy rooms instead of triple occupancy rooms. We have to understand the requirements of Ecuador in terms of vaccinations for our students. We also have to plan for COVID testing to return to the United States.”
Ecuador doesn’t require international visitors to be vaccinated, but this policy is subject to change.
Similar to Gray’s trip to China, Dale’s trip to Ecuador still has contingency plans to offer students a different study abroad opportunity should this one be cancelled.
“If we (see) a rise in cases 120 days prior to the trip, we’re going to reevaluate that location and maybe pivot to a different location,” she said. “Inside of 120 days, that’s going to be difficult. I can’t speak to what will happen until it happens.”
There are several study abroad programs already happening, albeit with changes due to the pandemic. Students say that the programs are still a success.
Darci Truman, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts, is in South Korea for the fall semester. The biggest difference she’s found is a decrease in nightlife as opposed to what she was used to.
“Everything here closes at 10 p.m.,” she said in an email. “There is also some restriction on how many people can go in one party to places at certain times. So that limits the number of people you meet.
“But I have still been able to meet and get to know a lot of people. Everyone is going through it.”
Prior to her trip, Truman said she was also worried about cancellation.
“There was always a fear,” she said. “There was a period of time that they had not confirmed the program, despite me getting in. After the program was confirmed, I worried less.”
Jonathan Doorn, a junior in the College of Engineering, is studying in Switzerland for an academic year with minimal restrictions.
Both Truman and Doorn were required to be vaccinated before traveling.
“In Europe, you can get a digitally signed certificate if you have gotten vaccinated, and so long as an organization scans these certificates or requires them for entry, there’s really no limitations,” Doorn said.
While life in Switzerland is not significantly hindered by the pandemic, Doorn said he faced some challenges in ensuring his study abroad program would actually happen.
“At no point in the process did I ever feel like the university made it sound stable,” Doorn said. “I was in contact with the study abroad office here in Switzerland, and they were much more confident that study abroad would happen than the Purdue office ... I’ve heard tentatively from the study abroad office at Purdue as to whether or not I’ll be able to continue next semester.”
Despite restrictions and remaining fears for cancellations, student interest remains high, Gray said.
“We have pent up demand from not being able to run programs for two years,” he said. “We’re seeing not just a couple of generations of students, but multiple generations of students that are interested and haven’t been able to have the opportunity to study abroad.”