Despite a rise in COVID-19 cases around the world, Gonzaga students continue to devote themselves to their plans to study abroad.
With many countries once again shutting down outside travel or restricting travel significantly, it has become essential for students who still want to go abroad to follow program safety guidelines and be as flexible with their plans as possible.
GU has a team of five advisors who help students sort out class schedules, housing and travel plans for their trips abroad.
These advisors also work closely with the partnering schools to help develop new programs and advance partnerships.
Director of Study Abroad, Alisha Lombardi, supervises other advisors and holds the responsibility of working through emergency situations as they arise abroad. She also sits on the International Education Council which is made up of representatives from many university departments in order to help drive campus internationalization efforts.
The study abroad programs were shut down during spring semester 2020, and reopened last summer. Lombardi, along with many university board members, have been working diligently to determine what is safest for students.
“We’ve tried to be really clear and set expectations or at least a framework that things are going to be different,” Lombardi said. “Countries have different ways of handling the pandemic. We really want to make sure that as the students proceed in their process, they aren't blindsided and end up re-evaluating their whole decision."
The study abroad programs send about 800 students in an academic year around the world in pre-COVID-19 times.
Now, only about half of that number has enrolled.
Despite lower numbers and new safety restrictions in each program and country, only five students have withdrawn fully from their plans this semester.
Lombardi said this is a result of the open communication that the advisors have with their students.
Lombardi said the only restriction placed by GU, in accordance with European Union guidelines, was the proof of vaccination requirement in order to run in-person classes in Florence.
“Specific to the restrictions, that is going to be based on the country and the program,” Lombardi said. “Some programs, like Gonzaga in Florence, we strongly recommend that students not travel before or after their trip, along with a strong recommendation to limit their travel within Italy, but it’s not a restriction.”
In addition to safety recommendations, many programs have shifted things like housing accommodations in attempts to keep things safer for communities and students. The biggest change is that many programs have moved away from allowing students to stay with host families and have opted to keep them in dormitory type housing, so that they can quarantine if needed.
Despite many uncertainties and changes, students are still making trips to broaden their horizons.
Sarah Bodisco, a senior at GU, is heading for Florence, Italy for the semester.
She was prepared to leave last year as a junior, until COVID-19 put a stop to all study abroad programs. This year she is excited to take a light load of classes and enjoy her time in Europe.
Bodisco is an economics and political science major, with only two classes left for graduation. She says that she ended up enrolling in a lot of art classes, despite taking her fine arts credit already.
“When I applied here, I applied for a scholarship to go to Florence,” Bodisco said. “So, when I got accepted, before I even committed, I had already been accepted to go to Florence. So, it’s been something I’ve been looking forward to since coming here.”
In terms of COVID-19, Bodisco said that while she is concerned about being safe and considerate of local communities, she does want to make the most of her trip and travel when she can.
“I think [Italy’s] vaccination rate is a bit higher than ours, so I have some comfort in that I feel like I can travel safely as long as I’m mindful of it,” Bodisco said. “The risks aren’t enough for me to not travel at all, just to be more careful about the way I do it.”
Bodisco and Lombardi agree that the biggest takeaway for students considering studying abroad is to be as flexible as possible in all plans you make when traveling.
Overall, studying abroad is still a great opportunity for students, and as things start to recover from the pandemic, programs will begin to move forward in their efforts to allow for educational and enjoyable experiences abroad.