Studying Abroad Amidst Covid: Worth it or not?

The time of buying fresh notebooks, taking as many extra shifts as possible before classes start, and collecting four-ply toilet paper from relative’s bathrooms is upon students around the globe. This year, however, there is an obvious difference for many students who had planned to study abroad: COVID. The world’s operations have drastically changed (as everyone knows) but these events have students, especially international ones, in a unique predicament.

Classes in many universities have moved online for this upcoming semester. Many of those same universities have yet to confirm if they plan to return to in-person delivery for the winter semester. So, that leaves the wandering scholar with more than a few questions:

Will I get as much out of the experience online?

Am I going for the education or the place?

Will I get another opportunity like this?

Should I still go abroad even while school is online?

Can I afford mentally, physically, or financially to take another year with my education?

Will I get into the program at a later date/defer?

These are some topics we want to explore with you, sailors! As fellow study-abroaders we understand how tough it is to jump into a new culture alone. Adding COVID to the equation makes the decision all the more daunting. This is more of a “IMO” piece rather than a fact-based article, but talking about the fears and uncertainties in general will hopefully lead more folks to make a decision that is right for them 🙂

One of the best parts of studying abroad is undoubtedly the exploration aspect. With COVID, unfortunately movements have been restricted in many places. However, more countries are starting to allow visitors from low-risk countries to enter and obtain visas granted that they quarantine for fourteen days. Furthermore, most of Europe has eased restrictions and the European Union announced that movement between member states is viable again. That means the travelling student has an opportunity to see more of Europe at least, but what about other areas?

At this time, some popular “study abroad” countries like Japan, Australia, China, and Argentina are not allowing foreign visitors to enter. Period. Some restrictions are easing, however. For example, China is allowing certain countries’ citizens who already hold valid work permits or Visas to enter if they have valid reasons.

On the other hand, some governments have taken a laissez-faire approach, like Sweden, and operation has been essentially normal throughout the pandemic. So, if you have plans to go there you may be in luck!

Other nations are somewhere in between rejecting all foreign travel and allowing it indefinitely. Meaning that some these places will allow entry to those who plan to study with an appropriate Visa and others will permit travellers from certain countries to enter. Some countries like Brazil are allowing travellers only by air so proper screening can be done but continue to deny foreigners who attempt to cross the border by means of land or water.

Movement restrictions bring on more concerns than just impeding travel while abroad. Many insurance companies refuse to cover travellers for pandemic related complications. Checking your university’s health and travel plan is essential before going! We cannot stress this enough. Not only is it a safeguard for the worst-case scenario, but some countries will not allow entry without adequate insurance. Risking refusal or potentially accruing thousands to millions (depending on the country) of dollars of debt is definitely not worth a pint of foreign beer. Not to mention you might not even get the education you came for (no school, no salary, just debt).

Hannah working very hard with her online schooling while we visit my parents ❤

The uncertainty of spiking cases is also a pertinent aspect of considering studying abroad during COVID-19. From personal experience, getting stuck in a foreign nation in lockdown is extremely stress-inducing. There are folks we met during our journey home that had friends being rescued by the Canadian military or people who could not leave their birth nation for months because they became stuck during a visit with their family. Being in a place where a large number of people may not speak your native language, in a place you do not have familiarity with, and especially somewhere where you have no supports, connections, or means of financial stability is emotionally debilitating and frightening.

On top of all of that to consider, if you are at a point in your degree where you are almost finished and may not have another opportunity to study abroad your decision may be more difficult. However, take solace in the fact that there are private language schools and work-holiday programs that you can attend after COVID-19 dissipates that do not require you to be a post-secondary student. If you have more time in your program, it may be best to wait. It’s not that simple, of course, and we realize that with an influx of students wanting to study abroad during their last years after COVID-19 there may be limited available spots in study-abroad programs. That being said, even if you do get to your dream destination, is not attending the campus worth your time? If you can’t travel and can’t attend class on campus, does it make sense to attend a program abroad for a greater financial burden when you can obtain the same, or potentially better, education at home? Perhaps it is or it isn’t but that is an individual choice to make, of course. If possible, it may be best to change education destination plans and save the dream destination for a post-COVID-19 trip.

To extend, there is always a concern of not being able to defer a program. Some universities have better policies than others when it comes to revisiting your education at a later date. The issue is, if your program is niche or you are taking a Masters/PhD program where you have an advisor, there may not be another opportunity regardless of the university’s policy. If a program is full or the university does not accept anyone into the following year’s cohort, you may be stuck and it’s not like the process of getting into a Master’s or PhD program is just another day in paradise. It might be necessary to move as lab work and working with your advisor/cohort would be much more difficult online with a large time difference, not to mention a lack of equipment.

Overall, as folks who have lived abroad a time or two we do not think it would be worth the foreign tuition fees, rent, and stress over another potential lockdown if we had the opportunity to go back at a later date for travel or defer the program another year. However, if this is a once in a lifetime opportunity then our hearts say TAKE IT. Feeling different air, sauntering along canals through city centres, smelling/eating new and wonderful fresh food, and walking ancient paths can be rewarding and enlightening experiences on their own. That said, be prepared for hardships. Finding employment, housing, and building local connections will not be as straight-forward during these times as the literature might suggest. However, from what we can see the world is inching closer to a vaccine and, depending on the location, governments might start to dole it out like candy at a parade.

TLDR:

  • Make sure you have health insurance that covers the pandemic either privately or through school
  • Make sure you are financially stable to incur the costs of a return flight and prolonged hostelling if necessary
  • Reach out beforehand and scope out possible connections/programs that may be running to help foreign students at the host university
  • If you can save the trip for later, do it. If this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, take it. Living through life with regrets is a huge bummer. Just make sure you leave enough time to quarantine properly, make a plan of how you will acquire essential services, and have access to supports in the case of an emergency.
  • Read local laws before you go ANYWHERE. If you don’t speak the local language and there isn’t a copy of any language you do speak, find someone who can translate. THIS CAN SAVE YOUR ASS! Don’t get detained or fined for being in a certain area you shouldn’t be/not wearing proper PPE.
  • Be safe! Wash your hands and try to avoid crowded areas is possible. The best way to have fun on your expedition is by actually being on your expedition and not at home quarantined or in a hospital room.

That’s all for now, sailors! We hope you have a safe and successful educational journey ahead of you no matter where you end up taking it!

Keep working hard 💪

P.S more content to come! We are back on the blog track so check back weekly for more content. Thank you so much for reading 💜

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