Even though international travel is currently restricted, now is the perfect time to encourage students to start thinking about which program abroad is the best fit for their future, in 2021 and beyond. Planning for time abroad at least a year before intended departure now seems to be a reality, and students should be able to book programs safely without fear of losing money or needing to follow through with a trip to a potentially unsafe destination.
Encouraging an early start will also provide ample time to apply for scholarships, make sure credits will transfer, talk with your program’s alumni, and conduct research on host locations.
Although the world we live in right now has a lot of uncertainty, the interest in studying abroad remains strong and we are confident that students will be excited to engage in cross-cultural exchange again as soon as possible.
As we look to the future of our field, these are the top five things we anticipate participants will expect from study abroad programs as they reopen post-pandemic.
What will students expect from education abroad post-coronavirus?
Universities across the U.S. have taken different approaches to the fall semester, with varying degrees of success. What has become abundantly clear since the beginning of this academic year is the role that transparency plays in this process.
Access to information is greater than ever before and we all like to be kept informed—especially on decisions that impact us personally. Study abroad is no different; students will want to easily see exactly what is included in program fees, the academic continuity and contingency plans, and that refund policies have a student-centric focus.
The more transparent international education organizations (IEOs) can be, the greater confidence students, their families, and their home institutions will be in trusting them.
Advice for students: “Be cautious, but not fearful. I would tell students to always prepare for unseen circumstance, but do not hyper focus on what might happen,” said Gabriella DeAngelis, a junior at Worcester State University who studied abroad during the spring 2020 semester in Prague, Czech Republic with AIFS.
2. Increased health and safety measures
Each country is handling the Coronavirus in their own way and international education organizations will continue to work with their university partners abroad to ensure proper health and safety protocols are followed on-site.
This will include academic facilities, internship hosts, housing (residence halls, apartments, and homestays) and any outside organizations that partner with study abroad providers.
There is a possibility that students will have to quarantine upon their arrival to their host location and/or need to quarantine if they test positive during their program. IEOs will be expected to provide clear information before departure on what the protocols will be in each location to manage the possibility of outbreaks of COVID-19.
On-site health and safety management systems will also be a top concern of parents, family members, and U.S. universities who have a vested interest in student safety.
Advice for students: “I would tell students to check how the virus is/was dealt with in the country that they are hoping to study in. When narrowing down potential programs, chose one that you truly want to go on. Being cautious about the country’s COVID response is important, but AIFS will ensure your safety no matter where you are,” said Jessica Williams, a senior at the University of Rhode Island who studied abroad during the spring 2020 semester in Prague, Czech Republic.
3. Greater mental health and healthcare support on the ground
The conversation around the importance of mental health continues to expand. Studying abroad can be a wonderfully exciting, rewarding, culturally enlightening, and expanding experience.
However, it can, at times, also be a stressful experience. As students are out of their comfort zones and in unfamiliar settings, the opportunity for mental health and healthcare resources can increase.
AIFS is pleased to offer enhanced medical support for students, including a 24/7 multilingual global teleconsultation service which provides access to mental health and healthcare professionals.
This service publishes doctor’s notes within the student’s patient profile to allow ease of access. Prescriptions are provided in a PDF format through an app and online portal or can be sent to the nearest pharmacy.
4. Added insurance options
Although travel insurance is not always at the top of considerations for study abroad participants, it is often a top concern of parents, family members, and home institutions. Comprehensive programs, like those offered by AIFS Study Abroad, that include insurance as a part of the inclusive program fees, can provide peace of mind during students’ journeys.
In response to the pandemic, insurance providers like Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI) now offer a new coverage option called Worldwide Trip Protector Plus which includes Travel Delay, Trip Cancellation, Trip Interruption, and Cancel for Any Reason / Interrupt for Any Reason (CFAR/IFAR) protection.
These optional policies can help limit personal risk and provide financial security for students and their families’ investments in study abroad if situations like COVID-19 happen in the future.
Advice for students: “In terms of choosing a program, definitely pay attention to the insurance information now more than ever,” said Seton Hall University senior, Alyssa Tolentino who studied abroad with AIFS in Grenoble, France. “…While I didn’t need to see a doctor, I knew that was always an option and that the process would be seamless with our insurance.”
5. Empathetic program staff
Being in a foreign location can be overwhelming at times, but knowing that there is staff available on-site that care for students can provide a welcomed safety net. Whether they have questions about the most cost-effective ways to travel in the area or need to visit a doctor and need a translator, on-site staff are the unsung heroes of study abroad.
Students often develop lasting bonds with their On-Site Resident Director and Program Staff as much as the other students on their program.
Advice for students: “The people that work for AIFS truly care about the students and it shows. The willingness to help and really go out of their way to assist the students with what we needed was just astounding to me—I have really never seen any kind of support from any institution I’ve ever belonged to in my life,” said Catherine Wheatley, a senior from Adelphi University who studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic during the spring 2020 semester.
In an uncertain world, education abroad continues
Almost all the alumni who studied abroad during the spring semester and communicated with us indicated that their relationship with time has changed and they recognize that tomorrow is never guaranteed. This has helped many students to prioritize plans for their future in meaningful ways.
As was noted by Mississippi State University senior Laurel Tollison who studied abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, “Just because we live in a time of uncertainty doesn’t mean they shouldn’t take the chance to study abroad. They should hope for the best and plan to study abroad, because some things in life are always uncertain. If they just wait around for things to become more clear, they might miss some great opportunities.”
This article was contributed by Angela Manginelli from AIFS. If you are considering studying abroad and would like to talk with students who were abroad during the spring 2020 semester, feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.