Study abroad office

The UA Office of Study Abroad and International Exchange, which has a building on Storer Avenue, matches students with international education programs and oversees their study abroad trips. About 100 students studied abroad this semester, roughly 1,000 fewer students than in the fall 2019 semester, but applications for future programs have been pouring in.

Although the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19 has resulted in some countries reinstituting tight travel restrictions, most countries remain open to U.S. travelers, and many UA students are eager to study abroad after the pandemic made it nearly impossible for over a year.

President Donald Trump first announced bans on travel from more than two dozen countries in March 2020. That same month, domestic and international travel in and from the U.S. plummeted. On April 1, 2020, the number of travelers who passed through U.S. airport security checkpoints was just 124,021, down nearly 95% from the same date in 2019, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

By December 2020, between 5 million and 13 million people were checking into U.S. airports each day for domestic and international flights, down from 17 million to more than 25 million each day in December 2019, according to data published in the Journal of Air Transport Management.

While most travel bans have been and remain lifted, and international travel is once more on the rise, many restrictions and requirements are still in place. Masks are required for domestic and international air travel, and some airlines require proof of a negative COVID-19 test to fly. Dozens of countries require travelers to have negative test results or be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter.

Director of Study Abroad and International Exchange Sarah Malloy said while travel is more feasible than it was in 2020 and early 2021, the process of sending students to study abroad remains complicated. U.S. Department of State and CDC risk ratings and travel advisories for countries across the globe are dynamic and at the mercy of changing pandemic conditions.

“One of the things that’s made reopening study abroad trickier is we have an international travel policy that governs where we can send people across the globe,” Malloy said. “And this is really similar at most institutions across the U.S. where they have an international travel policy.”

About 100 UA students studied abroad this semester, a large decline from before the pandemic. In 2019, the Office of Study Abroad and International Exchange oversaw between 1,100 to 1,200 students participating in programs in 50 different countries, Malloy said.

After many international travel restrictions and advisories were relaxed in 2021, more students are willing and able to travel despite lingering pandemic uncertainties. The study abroad office received more applications this semester for spring HogsAbroad programs than Malloy has ever seen, she said.

Students like Danielle Shaver, a senior majoring in social work and psychology, are only now getting the opportunity to study abroad after waiting for over a year.

Shaver planned to study abroad in Fall 2020 for four months in Madrid, Spain, but her trip was canceled because of COVID-19. She reapplied for the program for the spring 2021 semester, but she was denied again because of the ongoing pandemic. She tried again for the fall 2021 semester and her trip was approved, until three weeks before she was supposed to leave.

Shaver received an email in August informing her that enrollment in the program was too low for it to proceed as planned. Instead of embarking on her trip to Madrid, Shaver was transferred into a program in Valencia, Spain.

“Now I’m very happy it turned out that way,” Shaver said. “I ended up loving Valencia, but it was very stressful.”

Shaver’s trip was also shortened from four months to three, which meant she could not take one of the classes required to complete her Spanish minor. The lost credit hours led Shaver to change her minor to substance use disorders so she could still graduate with two majors and a minor, she said.

While some students were finally able to study abroad this semester, others missed their window, including Meredith Wilson, a graduate student who was supposed to travel to Ireland for about a month in summer 2020 when she was an undergraduate.

When Wilson’s plans were canceled, she found she had to complete the credits she would have taken during her study abroad program during the summer term and face the financial effects of the cancellation. Her airplane tickets were partially refunded and replaced with vouchers that could only be used during the year 2020. However, Wilson did not feel safe traveling during 2020, she said.

Wilson received a scholarship from the university that would have covered most of her study abroad expenses, but she had to return it, unused, when she graduated. Wilson plans on traveling to Ireland on her own to make up for the canceled trip, but feels like she missed out on a part of her education, she said.

“One thing that does suck though, is we don’t really get the professional experience that we would have gotten with the study abroad,” Wilson said. “My trip I am going to be taking by myself is just going to be a lot more culturally and historically based, and not as much business- and accounting-based as it would have been with the program.”

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