Many countries have now slowly begun to open their borders again with varying restrictions for students, and the University of Mississippi study abroad office is once again encouraging students to pursue opportunities overseas, despite the changing landscape.
Blair McElroy, director of study abroad, wants the office to help students make informed decisions about where they want to go, as the pandemic continues to impact different countries in varying ways. She plans to accomplish this goal with a spreadsheet updated weekly on the office’s website about the requirements of how to get into certain countries as well as airfare that is offered in and out of the country.
“We’ve had (the spreadsheet) up for a while in hopes that students will maybe decide to go in the spring or the summer,” McElroy said.
The office also works with other programs such as the Croft Institute for International Studies — which requires a study abroad experience for its students prior to their graduation — on adjusting degree plans and course credit. The College of Liberal Arts waived this requirement for students who plan to graduate up to May of 2022.
“What the College of Liberal Arts did was a really positive thing for those students. It doesn’t put that pressure on them to go abroad since times are so uncertain right now,” McElroy said.
She also said that many students are choosing to participate in programs during the summer and spring of 2021, despite the requirement being waived.
Of the 39 countries listed on the office’s spreadsheet, 27 have reopened their borders to foreign students with varying entrance requirements. However, many of these programs will continue to follow global guidelines set by the Center for Disease Control.
“All of these programs have had to adjust just like we have at the university, with anything from classrooms having assigned seats with six feet of distance to the cancelation of programs like homestays,” McElroy said.
Homestays are a type of program where a student can study abroad and live with a local family. These programs are very popular for students who are studying foreign languages because it offers a full-immersion experience. Many of the same homestay programs now offer single dorms for students that still want to pursue them to be in line with CDC guidelines.
The office also offered virtual internships and even online programs as a replacement of traveling abroad. One program that was originally located in Taiwan is now online this semester and available to the students who were originally scheduled to travel there.
“We’re looking for new opportunities in this changing time,” McElroy said.
Jaime Sabella, a social media ambassador for the office, studied in Athens, Greece over spring break. Through the use of the social media accounts, Sabella hopes to convey that there are still many options for students to study abroad, despite limitations on travel during this time. She said that she does not want people to think that studying abroad is not an option right now.
“I want to let students know that things like this are still available and fun,” Sabella said.
Jessica Washington, a psychology and sociology double major who graduated in May, traveled with Sabella to Greece over spring break. Washington said that for the most part, the program stayed on schedule.
“We only were not able to see a couple of places we were originally scheduled to, and everywhere we visited was really clean, so no one was nervous about contracting the virus,” Washington said.
However, the program occurred during the week President Donald Trump issued travel bans on certain European countries, and many of their flights home were canceled. Sabella and Washington said they received emails from the study abroad office that they had to make their own arrangements to get home.
“We had to take matters into our own hands, since I’m sure (the office) was unaware that our flights even got canceled,” Washington said.
The email, now on the office’s website, describes how the office handled issues from course credit to how students needed to quarantine upon returning to the U.S.
Washington said the experience was well worth it, despite little help from the office when it came to getting home.
“Seeing and learning about so many historic sites with friends is an experience I can’t ever replace,” Washington said. “I’m just happy none of us or our families got sick from it.”