Despite increasing cases of Omicron variant around the world, JMU was operating four semester-long study abroad programs during the spring 2022 semester and four-week-long programs over spring break in March.
The semester-long programs are in London in England; Florence in Italy; Salamanca in Spain; and Antwerp in Belgium.
The interim director of study abroad, Katie Sensabaugh said in a media report that 76 students are studying abroad in the semester-long programs, and 43 students are scheduled to study abroad during the spring break. During the spring 2020 semester, pre-lockdown, 99 students studied abroad in the semester-long programs, while 49 students studied abroad over spring break.
While each program is abroad this semester, Sensabaugh said JMU is closely monitoring COVID-19 developments and guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and others in international education, including other colleges and universities, study abroad provider organizations like The Education Abroad Board and CEA and national and international education abroad associations like the Association of International Educators.
Although no programs have yet been cancelled or delayed this semester, Sensabaugh said JMU’s biggest challenge is making sure students and faculty have the required COVID-19 vaccinations and testing done within the timeframe for international flights as required by the destination country.
”On JMU’s side, we have required all study abroad students to be fully vaccinated,” Sensabaugh said. “Once abroad, each program is bound to the policies and guidelines of their host country. These policies include mask-wearing, COVID-testing requirements, social distancing and isolation and quarantine requirements.”
This semester, Adrianna Rippon, a junior media arts and design (SMAD) and marketing double major, is a part of the Semester in London program and said there are 16 students, including her, studying abroad in London. Rippon said that although she was excited to study abroad, she tried not to get her hopes up in case of plans the pandemic might have altered.
“My biggest worry was that [the program] was going to be canceled, so I didn’t let myself get too excited until it was really happening,” Rippon said.
Before leaving the US, Rippon had to be fully vaccinated — including boosters — and take an RT-PCR test. Additionally, Rippon had to book a COVID-19 test in London for the day she arrived and couldn’t get on her flight without proof of a booked test, per the UK guidelines.
Rippon said the academic part of her study abroad program is not much different than it was for students pre-pandemic. She is enrolled in five classes and takes two classes per day, Monday through Thursday. Each class is a five-hour block that begins with 90-minute lectures and finishes with outings to museums and other cultural attractions.
However, what’s different about the study abroad program now is the rules and guidelines Rippon and her fellow classmates have to follow — put in place by both JMU and the UK
Rippon said JMU requires students to wear masks while in the classroom, but she’s been choosing to wear a mask inside of public locations despite there being no requirement. JMU also mandates its students to wear masks in the hallways of the flats they’re living in, just like if they were back on campus in a dorm.
“We’re basically following JMU protocol,” Rippon said.
Unlike previous years, Rippon said students participating in study abroad aren’t allowed to bring guests in their flats at any time. Prior to COVID-19, students weren’t allowed to have guests stay overnight. Rippon also said the students have a specific quarantine flat where they quarantine for five days if they test positive at any point during the semester.
In regard to testing, Rippon said “JMU’s students are required to get tested every Wednesday; if someone tests positive, they have to attend class via Zoom. Rippon said she’s nervous about testing positive because she “[doesn’t] want to miss out.”
Like in past programs, students who are a part of the Semester in London program take weekend trips to European locations. Usually, the destinations include Scotland; Oxford, England; Bath, England; and Paris. However, Rippon said the group won’t be travelling to Paris this semester due to the pandemic and that they’ll only be taking weekend trips to cities in the U.K.
“JMU is trying to preserve the program, but it is different,” Rippon said.
A sophomore finance major, Charlie McIntyre, is scheduled to study abroad in the Semester in Antwerp program during the fall 2022 semester — a program that’s exclusively for business students who are in the College of Business (COB) 300.
McIntyre explained that although he knows his study abroad program will be altered because of the pandemic, he’s hoping COVID-19 will be less of a problem next semester — that way, it won’t have an outsized effect on the Semester in Antwerp program.
McIntyre, who was unsure about studying abroad during a pandemic, said he had friends who went abroad during the fall 2021 semester, which ultimately helped him make his decision.
“It still looked like they had a blast and did a lot of normal things that represented a normal study abroad experience,” McIntyre said. “That kind of eased my worries about not getting the full experience.”
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