Study abroad programs to pick up in the fall semester

School weighed health guidance, COVID -19 metrics in making decision

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Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Lisa Gherbi, Collegian Correspondent

Over a year after University of Massachusetts students were forced to return home from studying abroad due to COVID-19, the UMass International Programs Office is planning on resuming the majority of their international programs in the fall semester.

Last spring, the University suspended all study abroad and exchange programs in China, South Korea and all 26 European member nations in the Schengen Treaty Area. This decision affected approximately 600 students. During the fall 2020 semester, a few programs re-opened and 13 UMass students studied outside the country.

The IPO took many factors and criteria into consideration when deciding to reopen a program and made determinations as to whether a destination was safe. It looked to the Department of State, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and travel risk levels for different countries. The IPO also looked to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, data sources that provide information to private businesses and the World Health Organization’s evaluation of the medical infrastructure of a country and its capacity to respond to increased caseloads.

“One of things that we did was to reduce the total number of programs we were making available for the fall 2021 and the spring 2022 terms,” Director of Education Abroad Mark Eckman said. “A big reason for that is the evaluation for each individual program takes a lot of time and so by reducing the number of programs, we were able to perform the appropriate diligence and evaluate the programs that we are offering.

A number of the locations not offered for study abroad next year were unsafe for travel in the first place, Eckman added.

“We did consider the pros and cons and felt that it was important that we continue to provide these opportunities for students who felt it was the right time for them to be studying abroad, or perhaps for some of them the only time available for them to study abroad,” Eckman said. “We also looked at the situation here in the U.S., in Massachusetts and in the Pioneer Valley in particular and felt that in many cases, the metrics are actually better than what you see here in terms of positivity rates, caseloads and vaccinations.”

Elisabeth Russo, a sophomore public health and English double major, is currently studying abroad in Stockholm after her program in Copenhagen was cancelled.

“I’m in Stockholm right now and I’m doing a Stockholm summer session through DIS, a study abroad program in Scandinavia,” she said. “I was supposed to go to Copenhagen, through a program already approved by UMass and then a week before we were supposed to leave, Copenhagen closed the borders to students.”

Russo is a Swedish citizen, so was able to switch her program to Stockholm last minute.

“For me studying abroad this semester was a priority because our classes are fully in person. It’s so much better than studying at home and doing online classes,” she said. “It’s also much cheaper to be here. Their tuition is half of the UMass out of state. We also have a whole apartment to ourselves, a nice COVID[-19] bonus. I was definitely a little hesitant at first, but I really wanted to get out of the house”

Many students have grappled with the decision to study abroad after already spending many semesters at home. A few students’ desire to study abroad has increased after spending a year learning remotely.

“It was a tough decision to make to be leaving campus for another year but it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Belle Graves, a sophomore communications and Spanish double major, said.With my Spanish major I feel the only way I’ll become fluent is if I’m thrown in a situation where I’m speaking and I am surrounded by it all the time.”

“I was planning on going in the spring of my junior year but staying at home and working through COVID[-19] I was able to save a lot of money,” Graves said. “COVID[-19] has brought good things in now I have enough money and can go for the full year. COVID[-19] has really enhanced my decision to go.”

 “I’m thinking of studying abroad in Australia at the University of Queensland Brisbane… It’s something I’ve always really wanted to do,” Marinna Kaufman, a sophomore psychology major said.

Kaufman grew up in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, and said study abroad “seemed like something fun to do but also something that could get me back out of America.”

“Australia is doing pretty well,” she said. “If anything more tempted to go.”

Lisa Gherbi can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @LisaGherbi.