Salisbury University’s study abroad faculty are continuing to evaluate the risk of studying globally and modify traveling policies due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
SU’s study abroad program provides students with a brief experience to learn about other places, people and cultures, which have previously included trips to China, Scotland and Costa Rica.
“Study abroad and study away is an intentional effort on behalf of the university to encourage students to spend a percentage … of their undergraduate degree away from campus doing a high-impact learning, field-based study in a foreign country at another university, [where they’ll be] doing research and internships in order to enhance their undergraduate degree program,” said Brian Stiegler, assistant provost for SU’s Center for International Education.
Since early in the pandemic, SU has suspended semester-long exchange programs and international internships, short-term, faculty-led global seminars and any university-affiliated study abroad programs to countries with Level 3 or 4 travel advisories by the Department of State.
“[In Spring 2020], we evacuated about 40 students from around the world mid-semester, and then we had no study abroad at all until Fall of 2021,” Stiegler said. “Right now, we have four students abroad."
“In a given academic year, we send about 80 to 90 students abroad for a whole semester [and] over 300 abroad in total including winter terms and summer terms … so all of that was lost from Spring of 2020 until Fall of 2021.”
More than a year and a half later, COVID-19 is still presenting the program with unprecedented challenges and setbacks that the faculty have had to strategically navigate.
Stiegler said the university is still not allowing faculty-led study abroad groups due to the viability of safely bringing entire groups of students and navigating all the remaining travel restrictions.
However, SU does offer an exemption form to bypass the travel restriction, allowing students to travel at their own risk.
“We have been creative in trying to get individual students the flexibility to manage a study abroad semester by themselves,” Stiegler said. “Essentially, we’re still restricting student travel to any host country that has the U.S. Department of State Level 3 or Level 4 travel advisory. Level 3 is ‘reconsider travel’ [and] Level 4 is ‘do not travel.’”
The COVID-19 Global Pandemic Acknowledgement Form is granted on a case-by-case basis for individual SU students and only when the reason for the high travel advisory is due to COVID-19.
“If students are prepared to take that on themselves, then we’re allowing them to go,” Stiegler said. “So that’s a flexibility and an innovation that has allowed us to move four students abroad this fall, which is a fraction of what we normally would send.
“We have at this point about 20 students who have really advanced pretty far in the application process for the spring term, so I expect us [to have] about 20 students abroad in the spring, which is halfway back to normal.”
The pandemic has also greatly affected international admissions.
“We also support international students, so most [they] were not able to get their visas to travel last year either, so we really lost the richness of incoming international students as well,” Stiegler said.
Melissa Aristizabal Vizcaino, SU’s international student success coordinator, agreed adjustments were needed to accommodate international students during COVID-19.
“What we did this semester that we would like to continue is that we did a pre-arrival orientation before they came so they were more prepared of what to expect when they were coming,” Vizcaino said. “We were making sure at the arrival orientation that they were able to get their vaccine back home, and once they got here, we were able to quarantine the students, test them and everything else.”
International students now also have the option of taking SU classes online.
“We were able to accommodate based on their needs in a way that we can still offer them an experience here with having all the precautions and making sure that everyone is healthy, happy and safe,” Vizcaino said.
For example, in China, SU currently has around 35 students from one university taking a dual-degree program in Salisbury.
“We designed a whole interdisciplinary studies curriculum, and we have teachers that were able to accommodate [these students by starting classes at 7 a.m. in the U.S.] while it’s 7 p.m. in China,” Vizcaino said. “It’s something that we have never done before … but it has been very rewarding.”
SU is currently allowing students to register for study abroad for Summer 2022 and beyond with the hope that travel advisories will improve at the end of the academic year.
For more information on SU’s study abroad programs, visit www.salisbury.edu/abroad.
By SOPHIA SMITH
Featured image courtesy of Salisbury University Center for International Education.