There has been a significant increase in the number of students abroad this semester compared to spring 2021.
University of Minnesota students currently studying abroad weigh in on their experiences amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with students sharing both challenging and exciting times.
Classes began in late January, about a week after the students arrived in their overseas programs. In general, students said their travel experience to get to their destination was smooth, despite travel restrictions.
Some countries have stricter masking requirements, where most people wear a mask both outdoors and indoors, while other countries are beginning to ease COVID-19 restrictions.
In an email to the Minnesota Daily, Martha Johnson, assistant dean of the university’s Learning Abroad Center (LAC), said there were 27 overseas students in spring 2021, compared to about 600 students studying in the world this semester.
Toni Van House, a third-year psychology and Spanish student in Madrid, said she felt her program had been disorganized due to handling more students this semester and feared her program could be canceled in due to the pandemic.
Van House said she didn’t receive her housing assignment until a week before she left and didn’t receive her class schedule until the day before classes started.
“My anxiety was really bad just waiting for that email like ‘where I’m assigned [to live] for four months of my life? Said Van House.
Due to COVID-19 precautions, Van House said living in a dorm was not an option this semester, which would have been his preference. She also said she had to move to another accommodation at the start of the semester due to plumbing, expense and location issues.
“I’m a bit sad that this option has been taken away because, living in my own apartment here, I have to worry about meals and cooking for myself, which is a lot of extra expense,” Van House said.
Emily Platt, a third-year interior design student in Copenhagen, said COVID-19 was limiting the number of programs she could choose from to study abroad. Two of the three programs in her major were still closed this semester due to the pandemic, Platt said in an email to the Minnesota Daily.
Johnson said it was difficult to manage various countries’ COVID-19 quarantine, vaccination and testing protocols.
“Requirements are constantly changing, sometimes daily, and the responses are different in every country,” Johnson said.
Johnson said COVID-19 has also prevented students from traveling to other countries during their overseas experience. BAC currently has a policy in place that reflects these restrictions.
Platt said her classes have a lighter workload due to the expectation that students typically explore other countries and cities abroad.
“This [University] the policy seems very restrictive and unnecessary as many other universities do not check their students like this and DIS [Danish Institute for Study Abroad] actually encourages travel while we’re here,” Platt said.
Caitlin Simmons, a third-year journalism student in London, said she was grateful her program continued despite the pandemic.
“The European Union bans us from traveling outside the UK and that’s a bit of a shame, but it’s always good to look at the positives,” Simmons said. “We are still here and able to be in a different country during these difficult times.”
LAC has developed various resources to support students abroad during the pandemic, Johnson said.
“We also created the first position in the United States dedicated to supporting overseas student mental health,” Johnson said. “We know there is a lot of anxiety for students at the moment and it can get worse when they go abroad or test positive when away from home.”
Although COVID-19 has created many barriers for students abroad, students generally said they valued the opportunity to study abroad this semester.
“The advice I would give is to definitely do it, even if you’re not sure,” Simmons said. “It’s just such a good experience to step out of that bubble that we all were in at university and really experience the world that’s outside.”