All study abroad programs offered to Lehigh students are coordinated through the Study Abroad Office, which is normally located in Coxe Hall. As a result of COVID-19, students now receive guidance virtually. (Vincent Liu/B&W Staff)

Study Abroad Office prepares for spring semester of unknowns and variables

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With the COVID-19 pandemic leaving college students across the country to take classes remotely or live at home, the idea of studying abroad next semester can seem far-fetched at the moment.

However, Lehigh’s Office of International Affairs has been making preparations for students to study abroad this spring despite COVID-19. Last March, students studying abroad were sent home once COVID-19 started spreading around the globe.

Katy Rene, assistant director of Study Abroad, said the office has put in place new protocols and expectations and are following professional guidelines. She said they are following the U.S. Department of State and CDC travel alerts. The International Travel Advisory Committee at Lehigh is meeting to discuss health and safety issues for students planning to study abroad. 

Rene said about 40 to 50 students have applied to study abroad for the spring semester, down from the 140 that typically apply. The final decision for whether Lehigh will permit study abroad will not be made until after Nov. 1, she said. 

Rene said restrictions depend on many factors, such as the policies of countries admitting U.S. citizens, the availability of visas and passports, and the amount of flights.   

Rene also said students may not be able to travel outside of their host country while abroad, which could impact their experience.

“Every country around the world has a unique approach and base their immigration decisions on a wide variety of factors that they don’t necessarily share,” Rene said. “Some countries are not accepting study abroad students from any country, some have restrictions on particular countries, others are allowing students with educational visas to enter for the purpose of study only.” 

She said these protocols are situational and are subject to change based on the severity of the pandemic once the programs begin. 

Rene said the university is working on virtual study abroad opportunities that haven’t been announced yet, but students should consider these opportunities if they are still craving the abroad experience without traveling. 

While these protocols are needed and appreciated, the pandemic might continue to deter Lehigh students from studying abroad all together, Rene said.

Emily Friedman, ‘23, said she was planning on going abroad for the spring semester, but COVID-19 has made her less inclined to apply. She said the main reasons were that classes are probably going to be online and wants to spend more time with friends. 

“Another reason is that I have health concerns that makes me a little more cautious of who I am with and what I can do to keep safe,” Friedman said. 

Instead, Friedman is looking at studying abroad during the summer. She said a summer experience is more appealing to her as it will allow her to spend more time on campus during the year. She said more of her friends are interested in a summer study abroad program to maximize their time on campus. 

Madison Smith, ‘22, was supposed to attend Lehigh in Prague this past summer before the program was canceled. Smith said she is disappointed she will not have time to go abroad before graduation because of a summer internship and her inability to fit it into her schedule. 

“I was looking forward to exploring new places with my friends while also taking a class I was interested in,” Smith said. 

Smith said despite the various restrictions and discouraging pandemic situation, studying abroad is a great opportunity for students once COVID-19 improves and when it’s safe enough to travel outside the country. 

Friedman said she thinks the study abroad experience is important for students. 

“Being from California, I have grown so much by coming to school all the way across the country, and I think by studying abroad, I will be able to grow even more,” Friedman said. “I think it’s crucial for students to study abroad as it will push students out of their comfort zone to experience another culture, language and environment.” 

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