Study Abroad

Why & How to Study Abroad Despite the Pandemic

Katherine Parker-Magyar

Katherine has traveled to 39 countries and all 50 states, but calls New York City home. She has volunteered abroad, including with refugees in Jordan.

There’s no better way to develop empathy, broaden your perspective, and expand your horizons than by living and studying overseas. Not only is studying abroad an integral part of your development as a student and as a human being, it is a fulfilling and enriching experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life--many decades past graduation.

While 2020 poses significant challenges for international travel, there are still opportunities for would-be globetrotters looking to pursue their education abroad.

Though the global spread of COVID-19 has halted international travel for many Americans, students looking to go overseas can still enroll in programs all across the world. In fact, many countries that are closed to tourists remain open to students—with a fair amount of precautions, of course. From Costa Rica to South Africa, Argentina to Vietnam, there’s no shortage of offerings for would-be international scholars. Or, if you’d prefer not to limit yourself to just one destination, why not consider furthering your education aboard a floating cabin on the high seas?

As a result of the unprecedented impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on global travel, study abroad programs have modified their offerings, featuring shorter semesters as well as virtual classrooms. Read on for more reasons why you should study abroad despite the pandemic.

European Countries Closed to Tourists are Open to Students

Although traveling overseas remains an uncertain endeavor for most global citizens, students are granted special exceptions in several countries across Europe. Of course, would-be international students should consult the CDC guidelines and restrictions for each destination before setting foot on a plane (or enrolling in classes, for that matter). The safety regulations implemented for students eliminate the guess-work of going overseas at this time.

Aside from the mandatory quarantines and COVID testing, programs are offering comprehensive insurance/assistance plans and 24-hour emergency services. Read below for some example study abroad offerings in Europe for the fall semester of 2021.

Countries Offering Study Abroad Programs:

Study Abroad Programs are Shifting to Four- to Six-Week Courses

Leading study abroad institutions have embraced shorter semesters in order to facilitate the continuation of overseas education during a time period in which the future is so unknown. Rather than committing to a year or six months, students now have the option to enroll in four to six week courses overseas. There are also offerings that include a longer online coursework portion followed by in-person experiences later on in the year (when, hopefully, the pandemic has somewhat subsided).

An example would be the GREEN Program, which offers a Learn Now, Travel Later program in which you take online summer courses then have the opportunity to visit destinations such as Peru or Iceland in the wintertime. (For more information about online-only global education, see our final point below).

Flexible Study Abroad Programs:

You Can Set Sail for a Semester at Sea

During this chaotic time in global history, why not embrace an unconventional overseas experience--one that is not bound by international borders? Given the uncertainty of border closings and governmental restrictions, spending a semester at sea has never sounded more appealing.

Although many Fall 2020 programs are canceled, Semester at Sea is still hosting its floating campus for its spring voyage in 2021. And the fall 2021 voyage covers 13 countries across Africa, Asia, and Europe, in 105 days.

There’s Always the Option to Study Abroad Virtually

More American universities are now partnering with overseas programs for virtual study abroad programs. This is the best way to travel when you’re stuck at home, and is cost-effective, and allows for flexible hours.

Plus, the entire world is now living on Zoom. You can network with global contacts, score overseas internships, and master a language, all without ever leaving your couch. (Though hopefully, you will be able to put those foreign language skills to use sometime soon in the future!)

Virtual Study Abroad Programs

When you’re considering whether or not to study abroad at this time, it’s important to remember that many nations around the world are safer to live in than the US at the moment, where cases are spiking across the country. So, once you’ve established yourself to be COVID-free, and begun your semester abroad, it’s likely you’re entering a less high-risk environment than the one you left back home.

While many fall 2020 study abroad courses have been canceled, there are many still scheduled for spring 2021, and particularly anxious travelers should consider signing up for the fall semester of 2021.

As long as you are a responsible and considerate visitor to a foreign country during this delicate time in history, you will be sure to reap the rewards of venturing overseas to study. You will expand your horizons and challenge your preconceived notions of the world, and this broadened perspective will stay with you long after you’ve returned home (and completed your quarantine upon arrival). Cheers to your next academic adventure!