Studying abroad amidst the Omicron variant

Next semester abroad faces new challenges with a rise in COVID-19 cases.

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Muhlenberg Weekly Editors Danny Milkis '23, Ayden Levine '23, Or-El Ankori '25, and Tom Hiller '23 worry over study abroad opportunities.

Studying abroad next semester in spring 2022 has posed many questions, as the new Omicron COVID-19 variant has heightened travel restrictions around the world. With COVID-19 cases rising internationally, Muhlenberg students and staff are faced with unknowns as they head into the spring semester with both hopes and concerns.

The staff in the Office of Global Education have been hard at work figuring out whether studying abroad is still a viable option while still maintaining the health of students. While the staff is concerned with the safety of all students travelling, they are also hopeful for a successful spring semester abroad, but only time will tell.

“We are in a period of great uncertainty until more information is released about Omicron and the efficacy of the vaccines against it. At the moment, the situation is fluid and we have to remain flexible,” said Donna Kish-Goodling, Ph.D., dean of global education. “Studying abroad in the spring depends on what policies our program providers and their national governments formulate in the next few weeks. As of today, the program providers have not made any changes. I cannot predict what or when changes will be announced.”

The fate of next semester’s study abroad programs depends on what government restrictions and impacts that the new variant will have on those with the vaccine. Multiple students have expressed concerns with how their spring abroad will go.

With the rising COVID-19 cases, these programs have faced issues with the many unknown factors of the virus and new variants. Without enough information, it seems difficult to have a clear-cut decision on whether or not students will have this special opportunity. After all, the safety of the students comes first.

Besides the obvious threat of contracting COVID-19 whilst abroad, students are mostly concerned with their programs being cancelled entirely. With so many uncertainties surrounding the situation, there are few answers to these vital questions. 

Elizabeth Katchen ‘23 gave her thoughts on the matter stating, “I’m definitely worried they are gonna [sic] cancel on us last minute. Not only because I’ve been looking forward to going abroad since high school but also because I’ve given so much money from deposits to residential permits and plane tickets and I can’t really afford to spend that much for it to just be canceled”

With so many opportunities to explore the world around us, it’s important to allow students to find new interests and passions through these programs, and with the Omicron putting this in jeopardy, the future is full of unknowns. Yet there still remains optimism for a successful semester abroad.

“So, I’m sort of trying to stay patient and not worry too much before we know enough to make any conclusions but it’s hard trying to make good planning decisions with limited information. I feel like that’s been the whole story of the pandemic so far.”

Take Danny Milkis ‘23, for example. Milkis said, “My situation with study abroad seems to be unique, as I was planning since last November to study in Ireland during the spring 2022 semester, as part of the media & film program. The past few weeks have proven dire for the country, as well as most of Western Europe in terms of COVID-19 variants.”

He continued, “Ultimately, I made the decision to withdraw from my program after conversations with Irish citizens as well as the study abroad offices at Muhlenberg and Dublin City University. While I feel that this decision will leave me without a major part of the Muhlenberg experience, I feel resolute in the fact that I will be keeping myself and others safe this coming spring.”

Or there’s the case of Isabella Van der Weide ‘23, who plans to study abroad in South Africa this spring. “Mainly I’m sort of waiting to see how this plays out because I think a lot of the data is still coming in,” Van der Weide stated. “So, I’m sort of trying to stay patient and not worry too much before we know enough to make any conclusions but it’s hard trying to make good planning decisions with limited information. I feel like that’s been the whole story of the pandemic so far.” 

“I think that they should wait until the landscape is clearer before they make any decisions.”

Opinions on this are mixed among the student body. “As someone who worked in the study abroad office,” Alex Whittington ‘22 recalled, “I remember when the first COVID variant hit and they had people abroad, it was a big time trying to get people back and figuring things out. It was very overwhelming. Obviously we know more now but I feel as though [the office doesn’t] want to go through that again so maybe we should reconsider.” 

“I don’t think that schools should be making any changes right now,” Emma Schwartz ‘22 expressed. “I think that they should wait for more data to appear before they take any hasty action because that could ruin a lot of people’s plans. I understand COVID is so important to consider, but it’s also important to consider students’ individual needs and how that might impact their lives – whether financially or academically. I think that they should wait until the landscape is clearer before they make any decisions.”

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