The Collegian
Friday, March 01, 2024

UR students enjoy study abroad despite pandemic

<p>Junior Olivia Falck during the fall 2021 semester in Bilboa, Spain. Picture courtesy of Falck</p>

Junior Olivia Falck during the fall 2021 semester in Bilboa, Spain. Picture courtesy of Falck

Many students who studied abroad this fall reported having enjoyable and normal experiences despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ellen Sayles, associate dean and director of education abroad, said she was optimistic that the reported success of fall programs will result in a large number of applicants for the 2022 summer and fall abroad programs. 

Despite the rise in COVID-19 cases, the Office of International Education decided to open every program in a country that was allowing students to go, Sayles said. UR sent 247 students abroad in fall 2021 compared to 308 students abroad in fall 2019.

Junior Olivia Falck, who spent the fall semester in Valencia, Spain, through a University of Virginia program, said COVID-19 threats had been heavily monitored. 

“UVA paid very close attention to COVID conditions in Spain, and helped me with all of my arrangements for flying home,” she said. “I would be alerted if conditions took a quick turn for the worse.”

Falck said that COVID-19 restrictions had a minimal effect on her time abroad. 

"My experiences may have been slightly different than those of students who studied abroad at my program pre-COVID, but I definitely do not think it was any less enjoyable or meaningful,” she said.

Falck’s time in Spain was made memorable by the ability to travel to other countries and take dancing and cooking classes with classmates. The Mediterranean coast was only a ten-minute bus ride from her school.

The OIE had many challenges in the past three years, Sayles said. Students were sent home early in spring 2020 and abroad programs were canceled for fall 2020. As a result, the OIE administrators had to make decisions on if they were going to open all of the programs or a select few for spring 2021, Sayles said. Despite these challenges, many students still were able to go to country’s they wanted and their programs assisted them in monitoring the spread of COVID-19. 

Students said that the countries they traveled to were accommodating regarding the pandemic. 

“The program was great and really helpful,” said Kathryn Reda, a junior who spent the fall semester in Copenhagen, Denmark.“ Getting tested [for COVID-19] was so easy and you could walk in and out of a testing station in 10 minutes.” 

Copenhagen did not have a mask mandate at the beginning of her semester, but reinstated restrictions after cases began to rise in December.

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Based on her time in Copenhagen, Reda would recommend applying for study abroad, she said. 

“Just apply and cross your fingers that all works out," she said. "There’s always the chance that things could be canceled, but don’t pass up the opportunity."

Seniors who missed the chance to go abroad their junior year because of cancellations were given the opportunity to reapply for the 2021 school year. Senior Corinne Joss took the chance to reapply and studied in Prague, which she described as an amazing city. 

"The city itself was very walkable and the food was delicious,” she said.

Prague did not have many COVID-19-related restrictions and she was able to travel throughout Europe easily, Joss said. Toward the end of the semester, cases began to rise and many of the famous Christmas markets were closed in response, Joss said.

 “By the end of my time abroad, the Czech Republic announced a state of emergency imposing a 10 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants," Joss said. "It was a bit nerve-wracking as cases rose, but we were not too worried about reentering the U.S.”

With the deadline for fall 2022 having just passed on Jan. 31, the number of applications was right on target as in previous years despite COVID-19 concerns, Sayles said. 

Contact lifestyle writer Lucia Helmers at lucia.helmers@richmond.ed and contributor Cortney Klein at cortney.klein@richmond.edu.

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