Study abroad programs return in fall 2021 amid pandemic

The Bridge of Sighs (Hertford Bridge) in the University of Oxford is pictured on May 28, 2017. via Wikimedia Commons

As prospective students make the rounds of endless campus visits, a common topic in each presentation are study abroad programs. It can sound very exciting to travel abroad as a college student, and yet, it can be frightening at the same time. Some students may not be concerned with exploring study abroad options, while others listen intently with a desire to experience another country. Others may need more information in order to take that leap of faith.

At Tufts, there are two types of programs students can get involved in: Tufts programs and external, non-Tufts programs. Both give an opportunity for students to learn and grow abroad.

According to Dr. Meredith Hyde, director of Tufts-in-London and Tufts-in-Oxford, study abroad programs come in a variety of options, such as direct-enrollment or center-based programs; however, they are all similar in their capacity to offer numerous benefits.

[Study abroad offers a chance] to question your assumptions and the things you ‘know,’ and to realize how something can be understood in an enormous variety of ways,” Hyde wrote in an email to the Daily. “It also gives students a chance to live and work independently, and to navigate very different cultures and experiences on their own as well as in part of a cohort.” 

Tufts seniors Gillian Rooney and Kathryn Ezeoha are currently studying in Copenhagen, Denmark through an external program called DIS

Rooney has been thinking about studying abroad ever since she was a freshman

“My parents were big proponents of study abroad. My mother went to Spain in her junior year of college and my father did not and he said it was the biggest regret that he had,” Rooney said. “Everyone I talked to said study abroad was the best time in college.”

Ezeoha saw studying abroad as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

I don’t know another time in my life where I will spend a significant time living in another country. I have always wanted to go to Copenhagen and study,” Ezeoha said. 

In Denmark, Rooney and Ezeoha will be taking all their classes abroad in English; however, other study-abroad programs offer unique opportunities for improving a language. For example, Tufts-in-Chile has students utilize their Spanish language skills.

According to Dr. Vera Yip, director of Tufts-in-Hong Kong, study abroad gives students a chance to step out of their comfort zones and confront challenges in a new environment, such as learning different teaching styles. 

The teaching, learning, [and] expectations can be different. Sometimes, even [though] the course contents are similar, the perspectives and approach may be different to what students are used to at Tufts,” Yip wrote in an email to the Daily.

Both Rooney and Ezeoha are excited to be taking courses they may not have been able to take at Tufts. Ezeoha is taking classes to satisfy her electives for her environmental studies major and her entrepreneurial leadership minor and explains how Copenhagen adds nuance to her major. 

“Sustainability is a big thing here and being in Copenhagen is cool to see first hand how sustainable cities function,” Ezeoha said. 

Ezeoha’s courses include Climate, Glaciers and Human Impact; Sustainable Business Strategy; Integrated Climate Change Planning; European Urban Design Theories and Textile Design.

Beyond coursework, studying abroad also offers the opportunity to become someone who is culturally flexible and whose intention is to understand and respect ways of being in a diverse cultural setting, according to Dr. Susan Sánchez Casal, director of Tufts-in-Madrid.

At Tufts-in-Madrid, we believe that the benefits depend on what you put into the experience, what you are willing to ask of yourself and give of yourself,” Sánchez Casal wrote in an email to the Daily. “Our students tell us time and time again that the experience of becoming a ‘global person’ changes their lives and their ideas about how they want to live, and we believe them.”

Ezeoha had to adapt to living in a different cultural setting, and she outlined some of the cultural differences she experienced in Denmark.

The Danish people are more introverted and keep to themselves. As an outsider, people will not wave to you on the street, or strike up a conversation with you,” Ezeoha said. “But once they get to know you, they are down to earth and fun to be around.”

Last year, many study abroad programs were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Tufts-in-Oxford program in England was able to run this semester, due to some unique circumstances. 

“We knew we could manage the risks because of the unique physical and educational set-up, with a small cohort, a site with controlled access and one on one tutorial teaching,” Hyde wrote. “Oxford had a stringent testing and self-isolating protocol and because of the long-standing nature of the program … we knew we could respond to a variety of possible scenarios in effective ways.”

This year, Tufts Global Education is excited to give students the opportunity to learn in a different country again. 

Given that study abroad was all but suspended for the 2020–21 academic year, it was important to us to find a way to reinstate study-abroad opportunities for our students as this has been such an integral part of the Tufts University experience for much of its history,” Melanie Armstrong, Assistant Director of Tufts Global Education, wrote in an email to the Daily.

Tufts Global Education acknowledges that students are living through a constantly changing pandemic; however, they believe they have the required tools to make study abroad happen. 

The decision to offer our programs during this phase of the pandemic followed an extensive assessment of the pandemic panorama in each of our countries, and the creation of effective pandemic protocols that work to keep on-site staff, faculty and students as safe as possible,” Casal wrote. “There is always risk involved in study abroad, and the question is never how to eliminate it, but how to minimize it.”  

For the academic 2021–22 school year, the pandemic has prompted Tufts study abroad programs to operate only in select locations, such as Chile, London, Madrid, Oxford, Paris, and Tübingen. Due to entry restrictions, extreme quarantine measures, and visa problems, programs in Beijing, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Ghana are currently unable to operate, according to Mala Ghosh, Associate Dean and Senior Director of Tufts Global Education.

For the external DIS program, Rooney noted that her experience has been safe in regard to the pandemic.

 “Denmark has done an exemplary job of controlling COVID so virtually all restrictions are lifted for us,” Rooney said. “All classes are in person. In general, everything is back to normal.”

She added that she feels a sense of gratitude to have been able to partake in an abroad program despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The program is really special, and I am grateful to be enjoying the world unfettered by COVID restrictions. The opportunity to live in a foreign country is really exciting and [I’m] soaking up Danish culture,” Rooney said.

Some may make the assumption that study abroad applications have decreased due to the pandemic, but for certain programs, this is not true. The London program has more than doubled in size, and the number of applicants to Oxford has tripled for the 2022–23 academic year, according to Hyde. 

Studying abroad, for many students, will remain an integral part of their college experiences. 

 “Experiencing other countries is not something you can learn on paper, you have to experience it in person, interact with other people and other cultures,” Ezeoha said. “It is a whole new experience, living somewhere else and trying new things. Everything is new and I am doing it for the first time.”