For WA students, studying abroad in a pandemic can be complicated

At Western Washington University, students’ petitions need to include how they’ve taken steps to be cautious about COVID-19, including proof of vaccination and how they will observe public health measures in their host country.

Western students also to review federal travel recommendations, develop a safety plan and include reliable information about their host country’s COVID-19 vaccination and infection rates. Doing so also ensures students understand the risks of their program, according to Larsen of Western’s Institute for Global Engagement.

Rachel Lewis, a Western senior majoring in German, planned to study abroad in Lüneburg, Germany, in 2020 but her program was canceled because of the pandemic. She intended to complete her major requirements in Lüneburg, but ended up finishing her classes at Western. Lewis was eventually able to do her study abroad program the following year in Germany, where she earned credits for her international studies minor.

Lewis said the biggest difference between the applications was the petition process, since she didn’t need to petition the first time she applied.

“I think traveling in general right now takes a little bit of extra steps, no matter whether you’re studying abroad or if you are looking to drive across the state,” Lewis said.

Gina Lopardo, Seattle University’s education abroad director, said several students who submitted study abroad petitions in the winter quarter of 2021 were ultimately denied program approval when their host country was flagged with a do-not-travel advisory before winter break.

That situation is something SU sophomore Roshni Patel is afraid of in light of her recent acceptance to study in London in the fall later this year.

Patel was previously applied for a study abroad program in Ireland in 2021, but it was canceled because of COVID-19. She’s also concerned about applying for housing in Seattle if the program is cut. If she is able to study in London, she would have to break her lease — or keep paying for an apartment she’s not living in.

Lopardo said the SU office told to proceed as if they were going to stay on campus, which means enrolling in courses for the next quarter students and securing housing. Loparo also said the office tells SU housing that students may end up not going abroad, so they will still need to secure housing.

“At the end of the day, I’ve put my life on hold for the past two years,” Patel said. “I’m going to take my chances and try my best to go and, if it doesn’t work out, it is what it is.”

She and other students who have studied abroad agree that the rewards the risks of a program not working out.

“I would rather spend all this time and effort applying and not being able to go than not apply and always regret not having tried,” said Holsten, the WSU senior.

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