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COVID-19 Has Reduced Study Abroad Applications By 50%

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Massachusetts Education Abroad Program has limited programmes in order to maintain operations and keep student travellers safe. Education Abroad continues to send students all over the world, though the experience may differ from what it was before COVID.

“We’re still in the business of sending students abroad,” said Mark Eckman, Director of Education Abroad.

The number of undergraduate study abroad students peaked at 750-800 in the spring of 2020, before students abroad were sent back to the United States due to the pandemic. This semester, approximately 400 students are travelling. The number of programmes available to students in fall 2020 was less than 200, whereas in previous years, Education Abroad had approximately 450 approved programmes.

“Once COVID hit we had to completely change gears and that became a primary focus in my work in terms of determining what countries were still safe for students to travel,” said Director of International Health, Safety and Security Andrea Drake.

The number of programmes available to students in fall 2020 was less than 200, whereas in previous years, Education Abroad had approximately 450 approved programmes.

In order to continue sending students abroad in 2020, Education Abroad had to reevaluate programmes in various countries. “We began to narrow the options available and focused really on partners that we trust and that have demonstrated the ability to support students throughout the pandemic,” Drake explained.

Programs were chosen based on their ability to meet specific requirements in terms of housing, quarantining, testing, and cleaning procedures. Education Abroad felt that by narrowing the list of programmes available, it could be confident in the programmes and their alignment with UMass’ expectations for students.

Earlier semesters, Education Abroad, according to Eckman, were unable to guarantee students that their programmes would take place. That is no longer an issue at this time. Drake said of the vaccination and booster requirements, “For the most part, we know that students are likely to have a mild or even asymptomatic case.”

Students who have received all of their vaccinations are said to have milder and less life-threatening symptoms. Despite the fact that each programme handles COVID-positive students differently due to local regulations, Drake explained that student needs are met through their partner programmes.

“I remain very optimistic about the direction and the trajectory of Education Abroad because international education has never been more important,” Eckman said, referring to the recent Russian invasion in Ukraine and events unrelated to COVID-19 that could impact students studying abroad.

“We don’t have any plans to cancel programs on the basis of COVID alone,” Drake added. This would only change with a drastic increase of cases and high hospitalization rates.

“I haven’t heard from one student who has tested positive that they had a bad experience,” Drake recalled. The programs Education Abroad partners with have helped students by bringing them food and helping with laundry when they need to quarantine.

“It finally feels like we have gotten to a place where it’s subsiding a little bit,” Drake said.

Depending on the severity of COVID rates, each country has different restrictions.

“It was just like life as it was before the pandemic in Denmark in terms of traveling,” said Megan Doherty, a senior double major in public health and journalism.

In the fall of 2021, Doherty went to Copenhagen for her study abroad experience. For the majority of her journey, Doherty encountered few to no restrictions, including mask mandates. Doherty explained that she would need to show her “Corona Pass,” which was essentially her U.S. vaccination card, to get into bars, restaurants, and clubs.

“We had to constantly stay up to date on the COVID situation in other countries as well as that in Denmark,” Doherty said. She was able to travel to seven countries with “no issues” since her program required vaccinations and the booster shot.

“It was definitely restricted in some way, and it was way more stress-inducing than I’d say a normal study-abroad experience would have [been],” Doherty said.  She felt that getting sent home “was always a fear” because she was traveling during a pandemic.

Despite the fact that the country is in the grip of a pandemic, “interest in studying abroad is quite high,” according to Eckman. Bridget Miller, a sophomore public health major, expressed concern about her ability to travel to different locations and neighbouring countries due to COVID-19 regulations, as well as her programme being cancelled.

“I’m not as excited as I want to be just because I don’t want to let myself plan everything and really be looking forward to it because I’m a little apprehensive to fully embrace it,” Miller explained.

Miller intends to study abroad for two semesters at Vrije University in Amsterdam beginning in the fall of 2022. Because of COVID, many sophomores, such as Miller, did not have a typical freshman year.

“It [COVID] just made me realize that if I’m going to do stuff, I have to do it now,” Miller said.

“You can’t really prepare for it, it’s almost like an impending doom,”  sophomore Spanish major and IT minor Ailish McBride said. McBride plans on studying abroad in spring 2023 and is interested in going to Spain — specifically Barcelona — but she worries about not being able to go due to COVID.

“If I don’t go then I have to figure out housing for the spring semester,” McBride said, explaining that if her program were to be canceled right before she went, she’d have to make decisions regarding housing and courses much later than she normally would have.

“For students who are considering going abroad right now, I’d say get going on the process early,” Drake suggested.

Drake also recommends that students get tested for COVID before travelling, as some programmes require a negative test result to avoid delays. While COVID-19 has made studying abroad more difficult for students, Drake believes that with enough time and preparation, anyone can go abroad.

Legal Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only.

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Abhishek Shah

I'm a final-year management student at NMIMS, Mumbai.

The power of words and their ability to affect others captivates me that's where my love for writing comes from. Content writing welcomes me with my own mind and gives wings to my thoughts. I'll today and forever love gaining insight by reading and writing and that's the reason I am called the father of scriptwriting in my circle.

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