Sydney Kate Watson, asst. arts and living editor
Study abroad travel was canceled from the 2020 spring semester through the 2021 spring semester due to the COVID-19 virus. With new pandemic guidelines, study abroad programs have reopened for summer and fall of 2021, once again giving Berry students the opportunity to have a completely immersive learning experience.
Even though the world is still experiencing the COVID-19 virus, there are very few differences in the process of going abroad now than prior to the pandemic. Berry College International Experiences advises students beginning when they are thinking about going abroad, through their trip abroad and even after they have returned to help market their new career skills. According to the Director of International Experiences Elizabeth Davis, there are just a few extra steps and considerations to the process of going abroad.
Firstly, the office wants to speak candidly with students about the expectations of different countries. Some countries require either vaccines, mask mandates, specific testing, specific documentation or a combination. About half of the partner programs of Berry’s International Experiences require vaccinations. However, Davis suggests that since students have been living in the pandemic for a year and a half, they have learned how to navigate the world safely. According to Davis, the students who traveled abroad during the summer, and so far, the students traveling abroad during fall semester have done so safely.
Also, part of studying abroad safely during a pandemic means that, especially in Europe, the once typical excursion trips to other nearby countries are not likely to occur, Davis suggests. Although, since Berry is one of a few universities to have reopened study abroad, Berry students will have the ability to really dig deep into the country they are in. There will be few other students and limited tourists.
“You are going to get a much more deeper interaction with the city and the country that you are in,” Davis said.
Secondly, due to the COVID-19 virus, government processes, of the United States and other countries, are delayed. According to Davis, the processing time to receive a passport from the U.S. is normally four to six weeks. Now, it takes at least 18 weeks to receive a passport. The U.S. does offer an option to expedite a passport; an expedited passport typically takes about one week to process and receive. Now, an expedited passport takes at least 12 weeks to be processed and received. Not only is the U.S. experiencing delays, but there have also been delays with student visas from other countries. For the host countries that require student visas, it is important to apply for them as soon as possible as well. Even though these extra steps might seem overwhelming, Davis says that students should not be intimidated about going abroad during the pandemic.
“By following the safety procedures and recommendations, you can have a safe and successful time abroad,” Davis said.
Senior Kyla Hill was part of the first group of Berry students to once again study abroad during summer 2021. Hill is a creative writing major and has a fascination with English literature, which is why her country of choice was the United Kingdom. Hill commends International Experiences for being more than helpful and accommodating throughout the logistics of her study abroad experience.
“If I had any questions, I could email them and get a response pretty immediately. That was really comforting to have,” Hill said.
Hill believes that, even though the office and partner program were very helpful, flying internationally during the pandemic was the most difficult traveling experience she has ever had. She also explains how the United Kingdom required a lot of COVID-19 virus testing and would not recognize her vaccination status. This is because the United Kingdom does not recognize vaccinations that are not approved in the country. However, Hill still believes her experience was valuable from high tea to the friends she made. She advises that traveling internationally during a pandemic is challenging, and students should be prepared to handle difficult situations.
“Make sure that you are in a place emotionally and mentally to be able to take on the challenges of the unknown,” Hill said.
Senior Christian Casteel will be studying abroad this fall from Sept. 18 to Dec. 15, in Alicante, Spain. He is a biochemistry and spanish double major with a minor in biology. Casteel chose to study in Spain because the immersion process is the quickest way to learn a language and a culture.
“I just really want to learn Spanish,” Casteel said. “I’m planning on immersing myself as much as possible.”
Casteel’s original plans for going abroad in the fall semester of 2020 were canceled due to the pandemic. However, he was still determined to have the experience that he believes will strengthen his understanding of the Spanish language. Similar to Hill, Casteel believes that International Experiences was overall great at communicating and very helpful.
There are many considerations when deciding to travel abroad, and the COVID-19 virus just adds to the difficulty of the decision. However, while trying to decide to go abroad, feel free to reach out to Berry’s International Experiences. Davis encourages students to make an advising appointment to discuss the options that are available to them.