Pandemic has college students wanting to study abroad in limbo

(Image courtesy of NAFSA via @NAFSA/Twitter)

When freshman Ron Coloma received his acceptance letter from Stanford University, one of the first things he looked forward to was enrolling in the university’s study abroad program in Florence, Italy.

“I’ve always been interested in the arts and culture, especially the Renaissance,” Coloma said. “Knowing Florence is where the Renaissance emerged … I was always fascinated by that.”

However, Coloma’s plans had to be put on hold when Stanford joined colleges in the Bay Area and nationwide in canceling in-person study abroad programs due to the coronavirus.

Caroline Donovan White, senior director of education abroad services at NAFSA: Association of International Educators, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit assisting schools in overseas programs, believes students are anxious to resume overseas studies now that travel restrictions are being lifted.

“As travel mobility opens back up, we will see some pent-up demand from students who had to postpone their study abroad experience,” White said. “They will be looking for new opportunities to go out and actually study abroad.”

Stanford University freshman, Ron Rocky Coloma, looked forward to was enrolling in the university’s study abroad program in Florence, Italy. Then Stanford joined colleges in the Bay Area and nationwide in cancelling in-person study abroad programs due to the novel coronavirus. (Photo courtesy of Ron Coloma)

Coloma said the delay won’t deter him from applying to study in Italy in the future.

“I feel like (Italy) is the perfect place for me to go,” he said.

Like Coloma, Stanford freshman Jordan Rothkowitz also looks forward to in-person study abroad programs restarting. Rothkowitz said she has always wanted to study in Germany, but with a large number of people yet to be vaccinated in the country, she is hesitant to apply right away.

“I think mask and social distancing and indoor gathering (requirements) will affect the cultural experience,” Rothkowitz said, “I’m still hesitant to go there because of safety concerns.”

White suggests those students who are still leery of traveling overseas meet with their school’s study abroad advisors to determine the best course of action.

“I would tell students to do your research about what you will be studying, meet with study abroad advisors to figure out … where is the best place for (them) to meet those goals,” White said.

Rothkowitz said the experience of studying abroad is worth students’ patience, as it is a chance for them to learn more about different cultures and about themselves.

“I think the whole experience of getting to live in a different place and forming close bonds is really enriching,” Rothkowitz said. “Once you come home and you’ve seen what life is like in another culture, it might make you think about your habits and what you experience in the states.”

San Jose State alumna Karen Taylor-Johnston was in Oslo, Norway, last year when the pandemic began, and decided to stay in Norway to complete her bachelor’s degree in art history.

“(When the pandemic happened) everything just sort of stopped, but in Norway things didn’t stop as much,” Taylor-Johnston said. “I was still in school anyway, the semester wasn’t over, (and) my visa wouldn’t be up until the end of July.”

After raising two daughters, Taylor-Johnston said studying abroad gave her the opportunity to fulfill her desire to travel.

“It’s just been sort of my thing … to always question staying in one place and not limiting myself to one point of view, to seek knowledge and learn,” Taylor-Johnson said. “I was restricted to stay at home and raise my girls. As soon as I got more of a chance to get out there (and study abroad), I took it.”

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