(Photo courtesy of UMass Lowell ) The pandemic put a halt to many programs and adaption was needed/curated.
With the pandemic ongoing, with no clear end yet in sight, UMass Lowell continues to function and provides many of its usual services, although in different capacities. One of their programs that is most affected by COVID-19 is the university’s study abroad programs.
UMass Lowell offers opportunities to students to travel abroad in various ways, such as faculty-led programs, exchange programs with partnered institutions in countries around the world and internships.
The summer prior to the current school year, before classes resumed in person for those vaccinated against COVID, UMass Lowell was one of the only UMass universities to have a study abroad program.
Professor Julian Zabalbeascoa, visiting professor and Honors College Communications and Study Abroad Coordinator said “There were four groups going abroad, of faculty led study abroad programming, for the entirety of UMass system last summer.” Of which three were UMass Lowell programs, going to San Sebastián, Spain.
“I was determined to provide this opportunity for students. Obviously we want to keep them safe. [Obviously] with COVID you can’t insure anybody safety but we had a set of protocol in place to greatly reduce the risk.”
And of the three groups that travelled with UMass Lowell over the summer, none of the students reported COVID-19 as it related to the trip. UMass Lowell is also taking into account travel restrictions from each country. The Honors College will no longer be travelling to Cuba this winter as per the country’s travel restrictions. Additionally, much like students are required to be vaccinated in order to attend classes on campus, those who wish to travel need to be vaccinated and have had a recent negative COVID test.
For students who are looking for different study abroad experiences, different countries might be more appealing than others. If a student is looking to do a full semester abroad or do an internship then a country such as Korea, which requires a full two week quarantine upon arrival regardless of vaccination status, would be more appealing than for a student looking for an experience only a couple of weeks out of the country.
Fern MacKinnon, Director of Study Abroad and International Experiences, said that UMass Lowell usually has around 22 programs running per year, although that varies, and that this year “[We’ll] probably have less than 10 this academic year. But that’s OK, you know everything. Everything with COVID is extra work…. we want to make sure that it is the right place that the students can have a good experience and that everyone can remain healthy.”
Students also have the option of choosing a country to study abroad in outside of the programs offered by UMass Lowell. They can talk with the study abroad office and plan for what their travel and time in the foreign country would look like.
UMass Lowell’s faculty in charge of study abroad emphasized that despite the restrictions in place, travel abroad is not discouraged. Zabalbeascoa said of the accommodations the university is making for students who have certain scholarships but who don’t wish to travel during the pandemic, “There were a lot of exits provided to you on the road towards your application… your ability to defer to next year.”
On the groups that did decide against deferring their applications to next year, Zabalbeascoa said, “To study abroad in San Sebastian in the summer of 2021, those students who said yes, they were determined to make the most of their experiences…the pandemic has kept us from many of those experiences and from the world, for quite some time”
Students who wish to study abroad in their sophomore, junior, or senior year should get started as early as the freshman year with planning a semester, year, or summer abroad.
“[The] world very often times is sold to us as scary… and of course, negative potentiality exists out there… but what often occurs when you leave the known world for the unknown, when you encounter and engage with, and sit down with and break bread with the quote-unquote other is you tend to recognize the shared humanity that unites us all. The world’s problems require a collaboration.”