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College Preparedness: Recovering from the PandemicSuzanne Shaffer
“I decided to study abroad to get a chance to see the world, get out of the bubble of college and meet some amazing people. I wanted to be immersed in another culture and learn the norms and ways of being.” – Recent graduate
“When I got to college, I knew I wanted to study abroad. The pandemic made everything a lot harder. I started overthinking and getting overwhelmed because there was so much uncertainty about whether I could go and if it would be safe.” – College junior
Long before college, I imagined a semester spent exploring a new country. I’d write essays at a French patisserie, take hikes in New Zealand, visit friends in London over the weekend, and celebrate my spring birthday in Rome. Studying abroad was always part of my plan.
But plans change. Of course, my plans never changed more than my second semester of college, when the pandemic sent me home.
I was lucky to return to campus for sophomore year, but it wasn’t the same. For health reasons, there were many rules to limit the spread of Covid-19 that made having a "normal" year impossible. With questions about whether study abroad would be safe, it was the last thing on my mind.
That is, until my university announced that study abroad programs would resume in the spring of 2022.
Some considerations for whether to study abroad remain the same, but the pandemic creates new considerations your student might take into account. Here are three I grappled with when I decided whether or not to study abroad next spring. (Spoiler alert: I've decided to stay on campus for spring 2022 and will not study abroad.)
I feel this pressure since my first two years were impacted by the pandemic. This has made the already limited college years feel even shorter.
If I studied abroad, my first “normal” spring semester would be my senior year. I would miss out on unique spring campus traditions, time to further explore my college town, and cultivating more involvement in the clubs I love. The question became, "What am I willing to miss out on?" and this was a huge factor in my personal decision to remain on campus.
While going abroad would limit time on campus, four semesters is still a long time. If I did go abroad, I'd still have the fall of my junior year and my entire senior year to explore campus more. I would have the unique experience of exploring another city the way I have navigated St. Louis. I know the countries will still be there If I want to travel later in life, but the experience will be different than studying a whole semester somewhere.
“It was a harder choice to make because going means I’ll only have one spring on campus. After many conversations with my advisor and family, I realized that I could never pass up the opportunity to study abroad, especially since I've wanted to for so long. It’s been a hard choice, but with everything figured out I am excited to go and explore more of the world!'' – College junior
There are many cases where being abroad greatly enriches your learning experience. For many majors, there are things to learn that wouldn’t be possible on campus.
The connection is most obvious for people majoring in a language, a culture, history or politics. However, there are surprising things to learn for any major. Connecting with professors abroad is a unique experience I won’t be able to have.
Being able to graduate on time is the most important consideration for whether I could study abroad. Most universities make filling requirements abroad very possible. Aside from being able to graduate, I looked at which classes I could take abroad versus on campus. The most unique and advanced classes in my major are offered in the spring semester, so I’d only have my senior semester to take those if I studied abroad.
Connecting with professors was challenging over Zoom, and I feel behind in cultivating relationships with my professors. Being on campus, I'll have the opportunity to get to know them better.
“In my [study abroad] program, I gained a new appreciation for other cultures. I got to study psychology with Italian graduate students. We would talk about bigger cultural differences and cultural struggles we see, and how psychology is treated and seen in the U.S. versus Italy. It gave me unique class experience I never could’ve had on campus.” – 2020 graduate
While I think there are situations where considering what your friends are doing can detract from the choice that’s best for you, I also understand that it can be hard to imagine a semester away from your closest friends.
When I was around my premed friends (for whom studying abroad is a challenge regardless of a pandemic because of course requirements), I felt much more sure in my choice to stay. While many premeds do find a way to study abroad, most of my friends came into college knowing study abroad might not be a practical option.
The hardest part of this choice for me was that, regardless of where I am, some of my friends won’t be there. When I’m around my friends who are planning their upcoming study abroad experiences, I feel left out of the excitement. The way they talk about it makes me know that I would feel the same joy and readiness to explore a new place if that was my choice.
Instead, I've chosen to better know this place, my campus and surrounding community.
When your college student starts their first semester, it’s not just a big deal for them. It’s a big deal for you, too.