Study Abroad Planning in the Time of Coronavirus (18m video)
By now, just about every corner of the globe has heard about Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019, aka COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2. It impacts our lives here in California, but before it touched on the daily lives of Californians, it was impacting study abroad students already abroad and preparing to leave for spring 2020 programs.
As Study Abroad professionals reaching promoting programs in 2021 and beyond, we would be remiss not to address this elephant in the room. Yet, we don't want it to suck up all the oxygen in the room, either. UC Merced Study Abroad is mourning not only our loss in personal connection for social distancing measures but also the dismantling of education abroad opportunities. Simultaneously, with student safety as our top priority, we need to support our students through program suspensions.
As of today, all of our partner programs have suspended or canceled their spring 2020 offerings, nearly all have done the same for all their summer 2020 offerings, and we continue to look at fall 2020 with a dose of anxiety while we reach out for spring 2021.
Some might question why we are doing outreach for spring 2021 or whether we should actively discourage students from pursuing study abroad for spring 2021 in these unpredictable times. But this gets at the heart of the values and tenets of international education in that we appreciate adaptability, calculated risk-taking, problem-solving, entrepreneurship, and intrepidness. In uncertain times like these, how do advisors better prepare students for study abroad?
Know what you need
Goals – Know what you are trying to get out of your study abroad program. Are you fulfilling specific degree requirements like the Global Awareness badge? SSHA upper-division electives? Engineering technical electives? An international internship? Some combination? Consider writing down and ranking your goals in order.
Organization – More than ever before, you need to be organized. If you need a new passport, you will likely need to collect proof of citizenship (e.g. certified birth certificate). If your major has a prescriptive set of requirements, you might need to work out a special academic plan with your academic advisor virtually, potentiall more challenging right now.
Open-mindedness – Flexibility and adaptability are, to a certain extent, a prerequisite and an outcome of education abroad. If COVID-19 has taught us anything in education abroad, it is that we may need to adapt—and quickly. If you can develop a Plan-B scenario as described below, we encourage you to do so.
Maturity – Just as we try to adhere to the social contract to protect ourselves and our community in "social distancing" measures, you may need to take a greater degree of responsibility to guide your own actions in preparation for study abroad from academics to health to finances.
Flexibility – If you have set some goals, as suggested above, know that flexibility is needed in travel preparation and your time abroad as well as in education abroad. Things will not go as planned 100% of the time, but know where you can flex. What aspects of your study abroad experience do not need to be entirely under your control?
Nonnegotiables – What aspects of your study abroad experience are not as flexible? Is it a degree requirement? Is it a health concern? Is it cost? Is it how study abroad would prepare you for and support your future career?
Personal needs – Your personal needs are most likely to fall into two categories:
Funding: Do you need to choose a program or term based on affordability? (Keep in mind that you need to consider the net cost rather than the total cost if you are a financial aid recipient.) Do you need a program that maximizes financial aid access? Do you need a program that aligns with greater scholarship potential?
Health: COVID-19 reminds us that certain members of our community may be more vulnerable than others. Do you have personal health concerns? Are there health considerations within your own family?
Know your back-up scenarios
As noted above, flexibility, adaptability, and open-mindedness should help with Plan-B options. Below are two major options for back-up scenario considerations:
Alternative destinations – One thing that seems very apparent as we watch COVID-19 is that it doesn't impact every location equally at the same moment in time. Hot spots today might be calm in six months and a calm location now might be the next hot spot. Additionally, some countries' healthcare systems might be better prepared to serve people in the region than in other countries. With these in mind, you may wish to consider an alternative study abroad country, perhaps in a different region of the world, that matches with your academic goals.
Alternative terms – Consider study abroad for a later term as a contingency plan. Perhaps your intention is to study abroad fall 2020 and you build an academic plan to accommodate study abroad for the term, but you might want to create the outline of a plan in case you have to pivot to spring 2021 or an alternative term. Consider what contingencies you might need to consider for your enrollment plans at UC Merced, your degree requirements, or possibly internships and employment, but build in flexibility where you can.
Also know that your Study Abroad advisor can help you consider back-up options and guide you through some of the questions you might have or potentially connect you to helpful resources you need to make the most prudent and informed decision for yourself.
Please know that, while we strongly value the potential that international education experiences offer our students, student safety remains our highest priority.