Study Abroad During COVID: Where to Go and What to Know

By Brittany Loeffler on November 19, 2020

We are eight months into the COVID pandemic that has changed the world forever. From going to work to going on vacation to study abroad, just about every aspect of normal life has been changed due to the raging coronavirus. With outbreaks all over the world, countries have closed borders, enforced restrictions, and consistently try to gain control of this quickly spreading virus.

This has drastically changed the way students study abroad. Just a couple of years ago, during the 2017-2018 school year, over 340,000 American students studied abroad. That number has dropped dramatically for the 2020-2021 school year.

While some schools have canceled their study abroad programs until further notice, others have come up with new programs and taken precautionary measures. So, if you want to study abroad, there are a few things to know before you make your decision.

study abroad

via Pixabay

When Will Study Abroad Start Again?

When the virus outbreak first started and the United States government announced travel restrictions and warnings in March, universities sent out a call for their study abroad students to come home immediately. Thousands of students hopped on planes and came back to the U.S. As they took online classes to finish their semester, they soon learned that most summer study abroad sessions were canceled.

Now that we are in the middle of the 2020 fall semester, things have changed a little bit. Some schools have restarted their study abroad programs while others are waiting until the spring 2021 semester.

Some schools are even offering virtual study abroad programs where students can take online classes with the professors of foreign universities. While this doesn’t provide the entire study abroad experience most students dream about, it does offer a great learning experience and opportunity to get different perspectives.

To answer the question, when will study abroad start again, there is no specific answer. It all depends on the university you attend and the country where you would like to study. Some countries are accepting student visas while others have completely closed off their borders to everyone but its citizens and permanent residents.

So, unfortunately, I can’t give you a straight answer here.

Where Can You Study Abroad? 

It feels like the rules are changing every day when it comes to where we can and cannot travel. Many countries have banned holders of a United States’ passport from entering because it is considered a high-risk country for the virus. While other countries are allowing U.S. passport holders to cross their border, but with a specific purpose.

Most countries in Europe (specifically in the EU) are allowing students from the United States to study abroad in their countries if they have a student visa. Two countries that are completely open with no border restrictions are Mexico and Brazil. However, countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Canada are closed.

You can keep up with the most current travel restrictions on Flatten The Curve.

study abroad

Infographic by Brittany Loeffler

What to Expect if You Study Abroad Right Now 

Just like with every other activity we do now, your study abroad experience is going to look a little different. With health precautions, restrictions, and new ways of living, you won’t get the same study abroad experience your friends did a year or two ago.

Here are some things you can expect if you do plan to study abroad during the COVID pandemic.

Logistics Will Come Into Play

Traveling and studying abroad right now isn’t as easy as buying a plane ticket and booking a place to stay. You will have to consider travel restrictions and border closures, quarantine mandates, and processing times for any necessary documents you may need.

For a few months, there was a hold on issuing passports in the United States, which caused about a million passports to be backlogged. The same goes for visas.

You should be prepared to work out timing, schedules, and dealing with waiting for approval of your documents. You will probably have to talk to a lot of different people. But if your dream is to study abroad right now, it will all be worth it in the end.

Be Prepared to Quarantine

Many if not all countries where you can study abroad have a quarantine mandate in place. When you arrive, you will be required to complete a 14-day quarantine. Many schools that still have their study abroad programs running will provide you with lodging and food during this quarantine.

You should prepare yourself mentally for the quarantine. Spending two weeks alone in one place can be pretty difficult, especially when you are in a different country with a different time zone. Think of things you can do to stay busy and keep yourself entertained, have a list of friends you can call when you get bored, and simply adopt a mentality that the quarantine will only last for a short while. It’s a small price to pay to study abroad in a new country and keeping yourself and others safe.

There Will Be Plenty of Testing

Get ready to have a swab up your nose a number of times if you decide to study abroad during COVID. It’s a good idea to get a COVID test a day or two before you leave to study abroad to make sure you aren’t infected and bringing the virus with you on a plane. Some countries even require you to show a negative COVID test in order to cross the border.

You will probably be tested when you arrive at your destination, sometimes even at the airport when you first step off the plane. If your results are negative, you may be able to skip the mandated 14-day quarantine!

Before returning home after your study abroad program has ended, you should get tested once more. While the actual test is pretty unpleasant, it’s necessary in order to keep yourself, your family, and your neighbors safe.

Health Checks Everywhere

Many countries have imposed restrictions when going out in public, especially when going to restaurants, shopping, and social activities. You will have your temperature taken a lot. Before entering a public place, you may be asked to have your temperature taken to check for a fever and required to wash your hands before entering the establishment.

Don’t forget that most countries require you to wear masks too. It’s important to read about the country’s requirements and restrictions to stay safe and control the coronavirus. If your country requires you to wear a mask in all public spaces, even on the street, please do so.

Less Freedom to Travel

One of the best things about studying abroad in Europe is the chance to see a new country every weekend. With countries being so close together, you could hop on a plane or a train and be in a new country in just a couple of hours. While the EU has created safe travel corridors for its surrounding countries, traveling on the weekends just won’t be the same as before.

Instead, you may be more inclined to travel within the country where you are studying abroad. It’s a great chance to really get to know your host country and visit all of its hidden treasures.

Unexpected Lockdowns

In the time of a raging pandemic, you can expect a lot of uncertainty and unpredictable events happening. We saw the world go into lockdown for a couple of months in the spring. Now as the weather gets colder and cases are rising, lockdowns have started to pop up once more. There is usually little to no warning at all when a lockdown will start. Some governments only give a day or two’s notice.

When studying abroad, you may be caught in the middle of a second or even third lockdown to try and control the virus. Just look at France, England, and Italy right now in their second round of lockdowns.

The key here is not to panic and just ride it out. Stay home and follow your study abroad instructors’ guidance. Take your classes online, read a new book, and take some time to relax. Lockdowns don’t last forever.

Be Prepared for Anything

Living during a pandemic calls for expecting the unexpected. We are all trying to figure out how to manage this virus and the implications it has on society and the economy. The best thing to do is to be prepared for anything to happen. Keep your stress levels down and simply go with the flow of things. A lot of this is out of our control, so the best thing to do is to stay calm and know that this won’t last forever.

Should You Study Abroad Right Now?

Once again, I don’t have a straight answer for you.

You have to decide if you should study abroad right now. There is no right or wrong answer. The decision is completely up to you. If your school is offering study abroad programs right now and you can get into the country where you want to go, then it’s possible.

It is your responsibility to weigh the risks of studying abroad during a pandemic. There are many factors to consider including potentially being stuck in a country away from home for months at a time. Will you be okay if you get sick in another country alone? Another factor to consider is if you have any underlying medical conditions that could put you at risk for having a severe case of COVID.

Deciding to study abroad right now is a calculated risk where only you can decide what the best thing to do is.

study abroad

via Pixabay

How to Stay Safe While Studying Abroad

There are quite a few ways you can stay safe while studying and traveling abroad. The first is to wear a mask. This not only keeps your neighbors and people you are around safe from catching the virus, but it also keeps you safe. Wear your mask while in a crowded place, indoors in a public area especially while shopping or seeing a movie, or while traveling on a bus, train, plane, or taxi.

Practice social distancing as best you can. When out in public, try to stay six feet away from strangers. This may not always be possible, which is why it’s so important to wear a mask. When it comes to getting together with friends, try to form a social distancing bubble. Choose your core group of people to hang out with to keep your exposure levels low.

Wash your hands as often as you can. Carry around hand sanitizer with you wherever you go! Before eating, touching your face, or taking off your face mask, make sure to sanitize your hands and lower your risk of catching the virus.

Remember to always follow the rules and restrictions that have been put in place in the country where you are staying. Even if you disagree with a 10 p.m. curfew or wearing a mask while walking on the street to your class or a cafe, it’s important to abide by these rules. You are a guest in this country, show them respect by following the restrictions they have put in place.

Studying Abroad in the COVID Era

The world is not as it was a year ago. The same goes for studying abroad. As the world tries to figure out how to get back to normal life, there have been some changes to our everyday activities. The experience of studying abroad right now has changed. You have to consider a lot of factors including quarantining, the countries you can go to, and calculating the risk of studying abroad right now.

Unfortunately, there is no right or wrong answer as to whether you should study abroad right now. The decision is completely up to you and your university. If you decide now is not the right time, just remember that the world isn’t going anywhere. You can always get back to traveling when the pandemic ends.

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