Planning to Study Abroad in the Fall? What the Future of Travel & Study Abroad Holds

By Kaitlin Hurtado on May 20, 2020

Many students come into college with dreams of studying abroad. While it’s not in the cards for all college students, studying abroad is still one of the things often associated with the quintessential college experience that everyone dreams up. Whether it’s a specific country students want to experience or a specific program they want to study in, study abroad can be just as planned for as your longterm list of classes you plan to take during your undergrad career.

Unfortunately, those well-made plans and dreams for many college students have come to a sudden halt due to the coronavirus pandemic. Whether it is jobs lost or school campuses shut down, for the time being, most are living in a time of uncertainty as at least one aspect of their life has been altered right now. Study abroad experiences are being thrust in uncertainty as they grapple with two fields that are struggling during the pandemic — travel and education. So, if you were planning on studying abroad in fall, what could you possibly expect of the coming months and where you’ll be in terms of your study abroad program?

Keep reading to see what you should be keeping in mind if you are still planning to complete a study abroad program in the upcoming fall semester and how to best prepare yourself.

Look at your individual campus for indicators

The measures each university campus is taking during the coronavirus pandemic are different from one another. Each campus is taking their country’s and state’s recommendations on how to navigate the future, especially as focus shifts to the state of the 2020-2021 academic year as the rest of the 2019-2020 academic year is being concluded remotely and commencement ceremonies are canceled. Some campuses have already announced that they expected to be open for in-person classes for fall semesters, while other campuses are debating keeping remote learning until after what would be winter break normally. Collegiate Parent sums up how different US colleges and universities are planning for their upcoming fall terms:

  • A full return to on-campus life as previously planned
  • Delaying the fall term and possibly condensing the term so that there is more education after winter break than before it — this is seen regularly in colleges on quarter systems
  • Mixing in-person and online learning to help keep up social distancing efforts and protect at-risk populations
  • Continuing 100% remote instruction for the fall semester
  • Re-opening campus the beginning of 2021 and extended the academic year through the summer school

As one could imagine in these uncertain times, it is hard to anticipate what kind of plan anyone campus is going to commit to as the weeks pass and more news comes out. And as more college students debate not returning to classes entirely, or taking a gap year until things seem more stable, if remote learning continues, you may be left wondering how your study abroad experience is going to be changed.

Infographic: Kaitlin Hurtado

Understand each school will differ in their approach to study abroad

Just as different businesses are approaching the coronavirus pandemic differently, college campuses and universities are expected to do the same. While your school may say they are committed to keeping up study abroad programs for their enrolled students, universities abroad may not be saying the same thing as they face their own circumstances in their communities.

For example, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is detailing their stance in their “Frequently Asked Questions” page for their Study Abroad Office. They write that they are “committed to running Fall 2020 programs, provided that the programs remain open and accessible to our students.” They also note that overseas partner universities are shortening abroad terms or changing study abroad programs altogether to keep students as safe as possible during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Yale is also encouraging students to submit their Year or Term Abroad application for Fall 2020 or Full Year 2020-2021 as long as their intended programs start after August 15, 2020. They currently have a restriction on all university-sponsored international travel through August 15, 2020. Despite these optimistic guidelines, Yale advises students to keep themselves updated and determine the best backup plan for them with their study abroad advisor. They mention choosing different programs or studying at Yale campus for the term if their study abroad program is no longer an option come fall semester.

Non-campus related travel restrictions may impact your study abroad experience

While your campus may still be running study abroad experience as they adapt, the travel industry is also being hit hard amidst the coronavirus pandemic. As lockdowns and restrictions lift around the country, and the world, it is important to keep an eye on how travel is adapting as an indicator of the future of your study abroad experience. There are a number of travel-related factors to look at, and it is not just the flight you had planned on taking to your study abroad destination. Even the housing you were looking at for your study abroad program could be impacted directly by the coronavirus pandemic. Hostels may be looking to change their policies, or housing options may be changing in pricing in response to the pandemic.

Fewer people are traveling through airports now, whether it be due to travel restrictions or simply feeling unsafe to travel during the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Transportation Security Administration, 95,085 traveled through security checkpoints in American airports on April 16. To understand that drastically low number, 2.6 million people traveled through American airports on the same day last year.

There’s no accurate way to predict just how things will change within the travel industry, especially as restrictions are sure to shift as coronavirus cases fluctuate in the coming months, and countries take their own actions. For example, Skift reports that Norway will likely maintain its travel restrictions until August 20, banning most foreign visitors. Community spreads/outbreaks of coronavirus can also impact your specific study abroad programs depending on where you plan to complete your experience.

Stay updated on changes here and abroad

Remember those pesky emails sent to your inbox from your campus that you would automatically skip over if they weren’t about a class canceled or something free for students? Make sure you’re checking those regularly for any important info about the future plans your school has. As these times are uncertain, plans can change suddenly and unexpectedly, so it’s important to stay on top of updates as they come. One way is to make sure you are signed up to receive the necessary emails — your school campus, student government, and more importantly, the study abroad division or office at your school. There, you are more likely to get the information you need that specifically touches on your study abroad experience.

This also means that you need to tune in to news coverage that isn’t just your campus, but news pertaining to the general population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for example, is a great source for news about the coronavirus, especially as lockdowns lift and new guidelines are being implemented globally. The CDC recently released a set of documents giving guidance on how schools and other establishments could begin the process of the coronavirus. The guidelines state that schools should not open unless they are able to implement coronavirus screening protocols, evaluating employees and students daily for symptoms and potential past exposures to COVID-19.

Prepare to shift your study abroad plans and have a backup plan 

With so many factors to consider when it comes to your upcoming study abroad experience, it is essential to have a backup plan and be ready to use it. Not only for your own peace of mind but also so that you are protecting your academic career and finances. It’s no secret that study abroad programs take plenty of planning and finances to complete, so it’s not hard to imagine why having a backup plan is so important in these uncertain times.

Contact your study abroad office and/or advisor to help you figure out what your options are for your study abroad experience as things change. If it doesn’t affect your graduation plans, pushing your study abroad experience back a semester or two can be extremely helpful as you are less likely to suffer financial setbacks if you were to cancel your study abroad program too late or miss a deadline online for refunds. Or, if you can’t push your study abroad program back to another term, you can see what your options are when it comes to choosing another country or university as your destination. You may not be able to get your dream university or country choice, but you will still be able to get the study abroad experience you always dreamed of having, just differently than you previously imagined it.

Or, maybe you view your current study abroad program experience as an all-or-nothing situation — you wouldn’t want to complete your study abroad experience anywhere else than where you have planned right now. If that’s the case, you should still have a backup plan. For many college students right now, that back up plan includes registering for fall classes at your campus in case your study abroad program gets shut down come fall semester. This way, you are still enrolled as a student and don’t face a major disruption to your track to graduation.

Photo: Pexels

Be Realistically Hopeful

As much as you want all your plans about study abroad to go as perfectly as you had planned for, you’re going to need to be realistic about the state of the world right now. Regardless of where you are currently residing and where your study abroad experience is, there are plenty of factors to consider, with one of them being travel. With worldwide travel restrictions in place right now, there is no way to anticipate just how drastically they will change in the future. They can be entirely lifted or remain in place through the duration of your planned study abroad experience.

As time passes, the fact that our life pre-pandemic isn’t something we are going to bounce back to quickly, if ever, is more apparent. As things quickly change, it’s important to be ready to change with them. Prepare yourself mentally about what could happen, even if it’s part of your worst-case scenario. This doesn’t mean being overly pessimistic about the future of your study abroad experience, but realistically hopeful and prepared.

As you grief over what’s changed and what could possibly change in the future, know that you’re not alone. As fellow college students grapple with their new reality — the loss of campus life, milestones in commencement ceremonies and school events, and the feeling of being a “college student” on campus — we’re all in this together.

If you need more helpful articles on study abroad programs, check out these related stories: 

4 Money-Saving Travel Tips for College Students: With study abroad programs having a hefty price tag already, saving money any way you can, can help immensely during your study abroad experience — and help future you as your return home after your program ends. This article outlines four ways you can help yourself with saving money during your study abroad experience, from taking advantage of college student discounts to budgeting properly.

Traveling During Coronavirus: Safety Tips and Advice: When you do embark on your journey to studying abroad, you want to keep yourself, and others, safe in the process. This article details everything you need to know about staying safe as you travel during the pandemic, from what you need to do before traveling, during your flight, and after you get off your flight.

6 Items to Put on Your Study Abroad Bucket List: If you’re already planning your study abroad experience, why not create the perfect bucket list for future you to complete? From trying something new to indulging in the culture, these ideas are sure to spark your creativity and make a great start to your study abroad experience.

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