What does studying abroad look like now?

Photo of Brian Becker, courtesy of pointloma.edu

Students are excited but understandably apprehensive about studying abroad at this point in the pandemic. Several Point Loma Nazarene University students are excited about the opportunity, however, showed concern about getting sent home.”

In an interview with The Point, Brian Becker, director of international ministries and  study abroad, shares what studying abroad looks like in the wake of a global pandemic.  

The Point: How can students know if the country they want to travel to is open?

Brian Becker: CNN, New York Times, and other news sites are maintaining lists of countries that are open for travel for U.S. persons. Our office maintains relationships with numerous partner universities and study abroad providers. We are able to answer student questions about which programs are still on hiatus. By far, most of the study abroad universe has pivoted to operate within a COVID-19 reality. 

At present, the countries that are difficult to enter or functionally closed for USA-based persons are Australia, Bulgaria, China, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden. Many countries are requiring full vaccination for U.S. persons to enter or have other requirements for testing and the rest.

TP: Are there vaccine requirements to study abroad?

BB: Yes.  PLNU has decided to require COVID-19 vaccination for international travel programs. We have a number of domestic study away options as well, and they will vary for their requirements program by program. We will work with students to process any petition to the PLNU international COVID-19 vaccination policy in a reasonable manner. 

The vast majority of study abroad partner universities and educational providers are requiring full vaccination for COVID-19.  There are numerous reasons for this. Other travel health recommendations and vaccine requirements depend on the host country and guidelines from that country, especially with regard to Yellow Fever.  We alway urge students to check the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to learn what vaccines and medications are required to prevent acquiring a disease abroad.

TP: What/is there an exit strategy in case of another severe outbreak?

BB: There are severe outbreaks happening right now. The U.S. CDC says that being fully vaccinated and taking other basic health measures is the best strategy to limit spread, and reduce risk of further variants. Our response to the pandemic is quite different now, partly thanks to vaccines and additional knowledge about the conditions in which the virus transmits best. The PLNU Study Abroad team will always remain in contact with our students abroad when challenges arise of any kind; and we will work to the best of our ability to help students if they need to change plans or return home earlier than expected.

TP: Are all of the programs capable of moving online if needed?

BB: We cannot say that all programs would be capable of moving online. Certainly many are. We know that governments from San Diego County to the State of California to the French Republic are all capable of ordering education online.  We’re seeing that the entirely online study abroad options are quickly closing down as regular study abroad with travel opens back up. It’s obvious that we like to travel and experience the world in person.

TP: Is there some sort of tution insurance or protection available if COVID-19 closes the country?

BB: Yes, sort of.  There are “cancel for any reason” insurance policies that are very expensive. We make sure every student in study abroad has a travel health insurance policy, but it is the student’s own decision whether they would purchase extra insurance for COVID-19 related disruption. We find that most of our partners and providers are reasonable, within the limits of their ability, when there are unavoidable issues that cause late changes or cancellations.  In some cases they have held student deposits for the future and they have usually not billed full tuition to the student when a program cancels before it starts. It is always most important to maintain timely and courteous communication around cancellation or withdrawal from programs; then we can quickly work together to sort out the financial and opportunity losses.

*More information is available at the study abroad meetings every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at noon and 2 p.m. in the Study Abroad Office located on the third floor of Nicholson Commons. Any questions can be directed to studyabroad@pointloma.edu.

Written By: Lilly Corcoran