Will Study Abroad Happen in 2021-2022?
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- Nearly half of colleges plan to revive study abroad programs for fall 2021 despite COVID-19 variants.
- The European Union, where most Americans study, remains open to students.
- The study abroad experience will be impacted by shifting COVID-19 mandates and restrictions.
The universal cancellation of study abroad programs last spring sent American students home in droves. However, many top study destinations reopened to American travelers over the summer, and a large number of colleges plan to send students abroad by the fall. According to a survey by the Institute of International Education (IIE), almost half (49%) of institutions plan on in-person study abroad for fall 2021.
Europe hosts over half of all U.S study abroad students. In June, the European Union started to allow Americans back in, although COVID-19 travel restrictions like quarantining and testing requirements were reinstated for U.S. citizens in late August.
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Fortunately, temporary travel restrictions in the European Union do not apply to people traveling for the purpose of study. Like medical professionals and diplomats, students are considered a special class of traveler. College students — as well as students at secondary schools, language schools, boarding schools, and vocational schools — are allowed to start or continue their studies.
While many institutions offered some manner of global education experiences this summer, other colleges don't plan to offer study abroad until at least January 2022. Columbia University, for one, recently extended its suspension of undergraduate study abroad programs through the fall semester. Columbia anticipates sending students abroad next spring, as do over half of colleges surveyed by IIE (54%).
Between lingering travel restrictions and attenuated demand, colleges' study abroad options may be pared down in the near future. The same goes for typical study abroad experiences and activities. Depending on the country and program, students may face restrictions when it comes to public transport, restaurant dining, and extracurricular travel.
Shifting European Union Guidance Could Impact Americans Studying Abroad
Travel restrictions were lifted in many countries that attract American students, just in time for students to travel this summer and fall. However, while the European Union was expected to recommend that member countries further lift restrictions on U.S. tourists, restrictions could instead intensify.
The nonbinding guidance issued at the end of August to remove the U.S. from a safe list of countries for nonessential travel reverses advice that was given in June, when a 15-month ban on travel from the United States to the European Union ended.
Restrictions vary by country within the European Union (every member country of the 27-nation bloc has the authority to decide its own border policy), and are likely to continue to shift. Most countries ask for proof of vaccination or immunity, or a negative COVID-19 test. Some still instruct travelers to quarantine upon arrival, although others are dropping their quarantine requirements for certain visitors.
Travel restrictions are lifting in many of the countries that attract American students, just in time for study abroad this summer and fall.
The European Union uses a traffic light model that labels countries as green, orange, or red based on risk factors. The U.S. is classified as orange. If it switches to green, all U.S. travelers, including those who are not vaccinated, will be allowed in.
Meanwhile, some popular study abroad destinations, including Costa Rica, remain on the U.S. State Department's "Do Not Travel" list. However, countries rated as "Level 4: Do Not Travel" by the State Department may still host American students.
A survey of colleges found that 18% will not send students to Level 4 countries, while 39% said they would send students to these countries after a review and approval process.
Study Abroad, Post-Pandemic
Before the pandemic, study abroad programs had been growing steadily larger and more diverse. Based on 2018-19 numbers, IIE estimated that about 11% of all undergraduates study abroad during college. While a dramatic reduction in study abroad opportunities and interest from students was observed in 2020, both were trending upward before the pandemic.
Some schools have also reported an uptick in participation in virtual study abroad programs. While online study abroad had little traction pre-pandemic, virtual studies and internships can now help students recoup some lost opportunities and lay the foundation for future, in-person travel. Virtual study abroad programs can let students get their feet wet before committing to a real trip.
Many educators anticipate the pent-up demand for study abroad could help programs return to full-steam operations as early as 2022. In the meantime, college students eager to travel and gain new perspectives should apply for a passport early.
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