11/24/2020 Update: I personally still feel confident that study abroad will happen at least on a limited basis in Spring 2021. While there is still uncertainty about how vaccines will be issued and who will receive them first (highly doubtful healthy 20-somethings will be at the top of the list!), the circulation of meds to help ease the spread of the virus is likely to aid providing confidence to presume some basic activities. Stay tuned.
Since the start of the pandemic, those of us who work as study abroad advisors have all received the same questions from students: Will Study Abroad 2021 Happen? And if not, When do you think I’ll be able to study abroad again?
The optimist in me hoped that by July 2020, students would be buzzing around the streets in the likes of London, Paris, and New York, even if they had to take extra precautions. When that fizzled, I became more of a pragmatist and considered Fall 2020 as a more attainable goal. That too was a bit overly ambitious, keeping in mind all that had happened.
The tides on the discussion began to shift in late August 2020 with a focus on study abroad for Spring 2021. Similar to colleges and universities around the globe, there’s a realistic and sobering view that education cannot be stalled or limited based on the virus alone.
The health and safety of students, instructors, and academic staff should be the top priority, however, it is imperative to find a way to navigate these uncertain times to ensure learning is not only fundamental but also beneficial for students. Providing meaningful and fruitful learning from behind a screen for nine months leaves little in the department of inspiration.
With this in mind, universities across the United States, United Kingdom, and the European Union, along with private programs worldwide are putting all the pieces of the planks in place to push forward with the re-introduction of study abroad programming for Spring 2021, with the utmost caution of course.
Let’s be honest. In the interim, study abroad as we have known it is going to look much different. Until an official proven effective vaccine is on the market, wellness & health safety are going to play a major part in any study abroad program you choose.
It is also important to note that until there is a vaccine, people will continue contracting the virus, common sense humans understand this basic fact. The positive gains, which are often overlooked, is that there are far fewer deaths than there were at the start of the pandemic worldwide.
This data-driven fact played a major factor in many schools around the globe making the decision to move forward with in-person instruction this fall, with accessible testing options on campuses. The balance between providing a somewhat normal experience for students and keeping them safe is a necessary evil in these times.
Both can be true.
Study Abroad in 2021: Will It Happen?
So to answer the question at hand: the possibility of study abroad remerging in 2021 is extremely high, but will consist of many modifications. Here’s what a 2021 study abroad program may look like reimagined from pre-COVID times:
1. Proof of Negative COVID-19 Testing Prior to Departure
This is going to be a critical and likely non-negotiable requirement for any study abroad program you apply to attend in 2021, especially in the Spring or Summer semesters.
The majority of programs that students I work with are completing their applications for at the moment have all stated that proof of a negative COVID test will be necessary to the issue of all travel documents and to enter any host country. Depending on the program you select, you may be asked to show up to three negative results over the course of a 21-day period (tested every 7 days for up to three weeks).
While there are three different types of COVID tests on the market, the most common is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), referred to in slang terms as the ‘Brain Tickler’. It is considered the most viable (granted there have been so many stories of false positives over the past six months), but it is widely used and recognized globally because it is used around the world.
Some programs may also consider taking antigen or antibody testing results in place of PCR, although these are not necessarily universally used outside of North America and the United Kingdom as proof that you have tested negative for COVID.
2. Ongoing COVID-19 Testing in Host Country
While the protocols are ever-changing and evolving, there may be requirements for programs with participants to undergo additional COVID testing once in their host country.
The reasoning behind this not only attempt to stop the spread of the virus but also aids in preventing wider outbreaks amongst groups, especially between students coming from countries with higher overall cases (ex: United States) but studying in countries with lower overall cases (ex: Germany). It is also important to note that these rules will likely be issued from local governments and not from your program provider, so it is going to be important to research COVID guidelines in the host country you plan to study in.
3. Limited Programming Abroad
One of the stipulations of study abroad in the era of COVID is to ensure a focus on minimizing interaction in large groups. In traditional times, study abroad programs may see anywhere from 75 – 200 participants in one semester, all traveling, studying together at one satellite campus, and interacting together.
Many universities and private programs are currently working on a way to create cohort models for study abroad, participants, for 2021 in most instances.
Through this model, all students would begin their program together online or on-campus and then students will be assigned a specific window of travel and stay abroad on-site in a host country with a smaller group of students that they will remain with during their time away. Again, all protocols are aimed at limiting crossover and aiding in speedy contract tracing if any students contract the virus while abroad, which is much easier to do if programs run at 20-30 percent capacity in comparison to full capacity.
4. Single-Roomed Living Spaces
If you study abroad in 2021, there is also a strong possibility that you may not have a roommate. With the exception of siblings or students that lived together prior to travel for their program, creating more boundaries and physical spaces between students in their housing options is another way to encourage less long-term crossover. It can also be effective in contact tracing as well.
Study Abroad in 2021: How Much Will It Cost?
Similar to the discussion earlier this year about making the case of colleges and universities to lower costs to level off with hybrid-learning or online restrictions, study abroad costs will also be in the spotlight. Is there an ethical reason to charge traditional prices if part of the program is virtual? Do “international fees” need to be suspended if students cannot experience the campus and access all of its amenities?
The best advice I can give on this is to take the cost factor into consideration when comparing which 2021 Study Abroad program you select. While most programs are not likely to outright gouge families, it is worth taking a closer look at each line item you are being charged for to ensure it seems fair in comparison to what you will receive during your program. That is true regardless, but even more relevant during the age of COVID and modified programming.
Study Abroad in 2021: How Do I Find a Program?
The first place to start is your school’s academic advising office (for students on larger campuses, you may have a dedicated study abroad office). Spend some time exploring their plans for 2021 and learning about these options.
If your uni is not planning to navigate the semester abroad waters any time soon, consider an Independent Organized Study Abroad organization such as the American Institute of Foreign Studies (AIFS), Cultural Experiences Abroad (CEA), or International Studies Abroad (ISA).
Are you and your parents searching for more personalized guidance on how to select a program, how to secure a visa, and how to navigate a study abroad program from departure to return? Join me for a 1:1 study abroad advising session – reserve your 30-minute introductory slot today!
Until next time…