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Study abroad opportunities available despite COVID-19

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By Kevin Corcoran
Staff Writer

Photo by Zora Duncan | Abby Poisson ’22 on a study abroad trip in Nepal.

With more than 100 programs around the world to choose from, The St. Michael’s College study abroad program has provided students the ability to travel the globe and explore new academic experiences. With five types of programs: intensive language, university liberal studies, community-engaged learning, international internships, and field-based research, students at St. Michael’s College have been able to simultaneously further their education, while also immersing themselves in unique cultures. However, like many aspects of life at Saint Michael’s, the Study Abroad Program has been deeply affected by COVID-19.

Before the Pandemic changed school and home life for St. Michael’s students, the study abroad program for the Spring of 2020 had an 88% acceptance rate, receiving 67 applications with 57 students being accepted.

However as travel bans, mask mandates, and quarantine orders began to increase, St. Michael’s ability to accept applicants decreased. 

In the fall of 2020, applicant numbers fell by 46% and only one of 31 students that applied was actually able to go on a trip. The spring of 2021 saw another decrease in applicants by 48%, but this time 4 of the 15 students who applied were accepted. The fall of 2021 saw 10 students applying and 4 students again being accepted. Looking ahead to the spring of 2022, 38 students have applied and 29 have been accepted as of November 1st.. 

Ellen Mckenna was one of four students to participate in the study abroad program in the spring of 2021. She studied in Seville, Spain. As a Spanish and MJD double major, McKenna  chose to study in Spain so that she could immerse herself in the culture and language to hone her skills. “My experience was absolutely incredible,” McKenna said.  “I became such good friends with my host siblings and their friends, and I would spend time daily with my parents,” said Mckenna. “All of my university classes were in person, and I also worked as an English assistant teacher every Monday in a 4th grade classroom, delivering lessons in English and helping the young students with their grammar and pronunciation skills of a second language,” said Mckenna. 

While she was not able to travel as much as she initially would have liked, Mckenna grew to call Seville and the city home, even becoming a local and a “regular” at her favorite cafe and wine shops.

Though COVID did restrict aspects of the study abroad program, when asked if she would recommend the program to other students, Ellen enthusiastically said “Yes! Absolutely. It was a blast, API did such a great job making us Americans feel at home, and the experience of living independently and under another family roof for four months is simply irreplaceable.”

Abby Poisson, ’2?  is currently studying in Kathmandu, Nepal this semester. “Studying abroad during the pandemic has certainly changed the trajectory of my experience in some ways, but less so in others,” Poisson said. “I have been fortunate enough to be able to stay with a homestay family in Kathmandu, as planned, which has made all the difference in my cultural and language-based immersion. Understandably many of my interactions with local people have had to be limited due to the risk of transmission of COVID.”

While Poisson’s experience with COVID in Nepal has provided some limitations to the experience, she is grateful for the opportunity to travel.  “Kathmandu has a mask mandate both inside and outside, so all of the students, as well as most local Nepalis, wear masks everywhere.I am incredibly grateful to be here, regardless of the restrictions and limitations that COVID has set into place, for our health and well-being.”

Poisson also has advice for students considering participating in the study abroad program for one of their semesters.

“I know that traveling during COVID can be anxiety-inducing for many and that there are inevitable risks involved, though they vary based on the country,” Poisson said. “As long as students exercise caution abroad regarding Covid, as they do in the U.S. and in our campus community, study abroad can be and still is a fulfilling and exciting experience.”

Director of the Study Abroad Program, Peggy Imai, has continuously been overseeing the study abroad process on campus amidst the COVID pandemic. 

“There are some schools that have found a pent up demand in study abroad because so many students for so long have not been able to go,” Imai said. “However, that’s not what’s happening on this campus.You have a lot of students that come here to have a community. I’ve had several sophomore students tell me that they would like to go abroad but what’s more important to them  is to make friends and establish the relationships they would have made in their first year”.

A recent survey conducted by the Study Abroad Office found that many students still wished to travel abroad but simply haven’t made it to the office to discuss opportunities. Imai  said  “This makes some sense because students have other things on their mind such as making friends and class and our application deadlines aren’t until a little bit later in the semester, but it would be better for some students to come in earlier to begin planning, especially students who are required to study abroad to complete their majors.” 

Imai said she wants students to understand that the opportunity to study abroad still exists. “We haven’t closed our doors or anything like that. Being able to experience different things is so important. If a student is for any reason not able to go abroad, I hope they don’t stop having experiences that are unique and challenging to them here at St. Mikes.”

If you wish to be a part of next semester’s study abroad programs you can find additional information and the necessary forms on the Study Abroad page on the official St. Michael’s website under the academics tab or type in the link: https://www.smcvt.edu/academics/study-abroad/  

The current deadline for the next set of trips is February 22, 2022.

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