Let’s be real—stepping foot outside of your home is a bit more complicated these days. So, the thought of leaving the country or figuring out how to choose a study abroad program might not even be at the forefront of your mind. That being said, your college career is moving forward, with the new norm of Zoom classes, followed by Zoom get togethers, followed by Zoom check-ins with your parents…Um can you add “Zoom expert” to the skills section of your resume yet?!
But one thing you might not want to replace with Zoom is your study abroad experience. To be honest, you’ve been planning to study abroad since you started college and flipped through those glossy brochures at orientation, so you don’t want to give up on those dreams.
The good news is that you don’t have to! As the vaccine rollout ramps up and continues, some countries are opening up their borders to more travelers—meaning international travel may be more possible soon.
It might take a little more research, planning, and self-motivation, but study abroad is still possible, even during a pandemic! Read on to find out how to choose a study abroad program during a pandemic.
Can I study abroad right now?
Yes! It may be a little more complicated than before, but this will just give you a jump start on one of study abroad’s most important life lessons—flexibility (2020 probably already gave you a few lessons in that, right?).
There may be some more factors to consider now, for example many countries’ borders remain restricted to certain travelers, based on things like your passport country, or even where you’ve been in the last fourteen days. Some visa offices might be closed or operating at a limited capacity.
And, of course, you’ll want to keep tabs on your potential destination(s) for how they are handling the pandemic and what their virus case numbers look like, as well as what daily life will be like once you’re there—which, as we all know, can change frequently. As long as you do your research, and weigh the pros and cons, choosing a study abroad program (and figuring out how to prepare for study abroad) even during a pandemic is definitely possible!
Here’s what to look for in a study abroad program right now
1. Free cancellation
Luckily, in today’s world of ever-changing plans, free cancellation seems to be becoming the norm these days. So it shouldn’t be hard to find a program that offers free cancellation or changes in the event that the situation, or even your mind or comfort level, changes.
Many major airlines have also done away with cancellation fees permanently. Having the option to cancel should give you peace of mind to move forward with your plans, and having that newfound flexible attitude should make it easier to accept life’s inevitable changes and go with the flow!
Knowing that your plans could change, but that your provider will confront those changes with you, can give you more confidence to book and make plans, and their expert advice can also help you make informed decisions about cancelling, if the need arises.
2. Assistance with rebooking
While having the option to change or cancel plans based on your own needs, comfort level, and preferences based on the ever-changing international travel landscape as you move forward is a fantastic perk right now, what if you still want to make your dream of study abroad happen in another location?
Maybe you made a list of top study abroad destinations so that you could pivot in the event of border closures or visa difficulties—smart one you are! If you’re ready to go abroad and are willing to be flexible, having a team that is able to help you rebook (and transfer over those well-saved funds) to a new program or destination (or both!) will be super helpful.
3. High health and safety standards
This probably goes without saying (and many companies, organizations, and nations as a whole have embraced high health and safety standards), but in this day and age it always helps to double check that a provider’s safety standards are up to yours.
Other countries have other rules and regulations, and you’ll want to make sure that your study abroad provider is, at a minimum, following those. Maybe you’re used to something more strict back home or in your own personal life, so you’ll want to make sure they will support you in those choices, as well.
Things like quarantining upon arrival, mask usage, easy private transport or walking options to class, social bubbles among housemates, and virus screenings before events are just a few examples or some of the safety standards that great study abroad program providers promote.
4. Optional online/virtual component
While being abroad during the pandemic will be a unique opportunity with unique challenges as well as positive aspects of its own (think of the stories you can tell your grandkids!), you will have to be practical and cautious.
This means that if attending in-person classes becomes impossible, or you have to return home for any reason, that the program will be able to evolve with you and offer a virtual component to keep you on track with your experience and your studies.
It also might be worthwhile to look into providers that offer virtual options, just to have another plan to fall back on should you wish to go that route.
5. Different program duration options for visa ease
While planning to study abroad, weighing all the pros and cons of different locations and virtual programming, something else you might not have thought of is changing up your program duration.
While visa offices may be working on restricted hours right now, or even closed completely, why not take the visa out of the equation by shortening your stay in the host country? Many programs are offering this as an alternative, as it allows you to make plans closer to departure when you don’t have to wait for a visa approval.
For example, some countries offer visa-free stays of up to 90 days typically, meaning no visa is required for a program that fits within that duration. Spring break or summer term are other alternatives to longer-term semester or year-long programs.
6. Insurance and healthcare options overseas
When choosing a study abroad program, some kind of mandatory health coverage is usually part of the package. Whether that’s buying into a national plan, or some private coverage specifically for program participants, or maybe a separate travel insurance policy that covers emergency medical use, chances are it will be in there.
Whether or not you paid much attention to it in the “before” times, the reality of today is that even the young and healthy need to think about what the healthcare options are like overseas, what will or will not be included in insurance fees, and how to budget for those costs.
As telehealth popularity has grown in the US, it’s worth looking into whether your host country has something similar, so you know you’ll have access to a doctor whether or not you can get there in person.
Another option could be seeing what, if anything, your home insurance provider covers overseas. Being sick away from home is no fun, but when you do your research at least you know you’ll be well taken care of!