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UMN students share study abroad experiences amid COVID-19

There has been a significant increase in the number of students abroad this semester compared to spring 2021.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

University of Minnesota students currently studying abroad are weighing in on their experiences amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with students sharing both difficult and exciting moments.

Classes began in late January, around a week after students arrived to their programs abroad. Generally, students said their traveling experience to get to their destinations went smoothly, despite travel restrictions.

Some countries have stricter masking requirements, where most people wear a mask outside and indoors, while other countries are beginning to loosen up COVID-19 restrictions.

In an email to the Minnesota Daily, Martha Johnson, assistant dean of the University’s Learning Abroad Center (LAC), said there were 27 students abroad in Spring 2021, compared to the approximately 600 students studying around the world this semester.

Toni Van House, a third-year student studying psychology and Spanish in Madrid, said she feels her program has been disorganized from handling more students this semester and worried her program was going to get canceled due to the pandemic.

Van House said she didn’t receive her housing assignment until a week before departing and did not receive her class schedule until the day before classes began.

“My anxiety was really bad just waiting for that email like ‘where i’m getting assigned [to live] for four months of my life?’” Van House said.

Due to COVID-19 precautions, Van House said living in a dormitory was not an option this semester, which would have been her preference. She also said she had to move to different housing early in the semester because of issues with plumbing, expenses and location.

“I’m kind of sad that option was taken away because, living in my own apartment here, I have to worry about meals and cooking for myself, which is a lot of extra expenses,” Van House said.

Emily Platt, a third-year student studying interior design in Copenhagen said COVID-19 limited the number of programs she could choose from to study abroad. Two of the three programs for her major were still closed this semester due to the pandemic, Platt said in an email to the Minnesota Daily.

Johnson said it has been difficult to manage various countries’ COVID-19 quarantine, vaccination and testing protocols.

“The requirements are constantly changing, sometimes daily and the answers are different in every country,” Johnson said.

Johnson said COVID-19 has also restricted students from traveling to other countries during their abroad experience. The LAC currently has a policy in place that reflects these restrictions.

Platt said her courses have a lighter workload due to the expectation that students typically explore other countries and cities while abroad.

“This [University] policy feels very restrictive and unnecessary, as many other universities do not control their students like this and DIS [Danish Institute for Study Abroad] actually encourages travel while we are here,” Platt said.

Caitlin Simmons, a third-year student studying journalism in London said she is thankful her program has continued regardless of the pandemic.

“The European Union restricts us from traveling outside of the UK and that’s kind of a bummer but it’s still good to look at the positives,” Simmons said. “We’re still here and able to be in a different country during these hard times.”

The LAC has developed various resources to support students abroad during the pandemic, Johnson said.

“We also created the first staff position in the US dedicated to supporting student mental health abroad,” Johnson said. “We know there is a lot of anxiety for students right now and that can become worse when they go abroad or test positive when they are far from home.”

Although COVID-19 has created many obstacles for students abroad, students generally said they are appreciative of the opportunity to study abroad this semester.

“The advice I would give is to definitely do it, even if you’re unsure,” Simmons said. “It’s just such a good experience to get out of that bubble that we’ve all been in during college and really experience the world that’s outside.”

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