Last fall, Elon University in North Carolina had 550 students studying abroad. This fall, they have just 13. They are expecting that number to increase substantially as study abroad advisers are seeing an uptick of (virtual) appointment requests.
“We’ve actually opened our cycle of applications for fall 2021 and we have loads and loads of applications already,” says Rhonda Waller, the university’s executive director of global engagement.
Americans are not allowed to enter many international borders, including the European Union, but there are exceptions for people traveling for work, emergencies and school. While the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak was chaotic for U.S. students abroad, as exchange programs were canceled and borders closed, students are taking the opportunity to study abroad again now that they have been given the green light.
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“For a lot of families, it was a risk calculation,” Waller says. “You do have to get on an airplane and that’s definitely part of the calculus as part of their thinking. But once you get off that airplane, some of these locations are probably looking actually pretty favorable compared to the relative conditions and the positivity rates here in the United States.”
Before the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of U.S. students were studying abroad each year. In the 2017-2018 school year, more than 341,750 students studied abroad for academic credit, with the U.K., Italy, Spain, France and Germany as the most popular destinations, according to the most recent stats available from the Institute of International Education.
Waller says she advises students to be optimistic as well as cautious and flexible while they plan study abroad experiences since complications can arise. Students can even register for classes at Elon’s North Carolina campus in case their study abroad plans fall through at the last minute.
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Once students arrive overseas, they are in the hands of the local study abroad partners who are in charge of making adjustments for the coronavirus, from health screenings and quarantining upon arrival to adjustments to classroom settings. However, a travel abroad student’s experience will depend on where they are studying. Even if students choose destinations where coronavirus cases are currently low, it is impossible to know what the situation will be once they actually arrive.
At the American University of Paris, neurology student Morgan Phillips, 21, says class sizes are small and desks are socially distanced. However, students are given the option of choosing online learning if they are not comfortable coming to class in person. “Obviously everybody wears masks, but everything else seems pretty normal,” says Phillips, who moved from New York City.
In Florence, American graduate student Stef Ferrari, 36, has her temperature checked before entering any building of the Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici, where class sizes are small, masks are mandatory and hand sanitizer is readily available. While she’s overjoyed