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Students navigate COVID-19 restrictions while studying abroad

University resumes 8 programs paused during the pandemic

<p>The University now offers 18 study abroad programs, an increase from the 10 offered in the fall 2021 semester.</p>

The University now offers 18 study abroad programs, an increase from the 10 offered in the fall 2021 semester.

The University’s undergraduate students departed for spring study abroad programs this year amid rising COVID-19 cases driven by the emergence of the Omicron variant. But abroad travelers are at more programs around the globe than during previous pandemic semesters.

In consultation with the University’s Global Travel Risk Advisory Committee and leadership, the Office of International Programs followed through on its previous decision to expand the number study abroad programs for the spring 2022 semester from the fall 2021 semester, which was limited because of COVID-19. Students enrolled in these programs have largely reported enriching and safe experiences as the semester begins.

This semester, the University is offering 18 programs as opposed to the 10 they offered in fall 2021. According to the University’s Healthy Brown website, students abroad must meet the same vaccination requirements as students on campus. Such precautions come in addition to any surveillance testing required by their host countries and institutions. 

The University considered the “public health conditions, travel restrictions, access to visas and vaccination rates” when reviewing study abroad locations for the spring semester, OIP Deputy Director Lauren Alexander previously told The Herald.

Aside from these broader precautions, individual countries and programs have their own public health protocols that students must abide by. For example, Luci Jones ’23 was required to present a negative PCR result taken within 72 hours of beginning the DIS Copenhagen program in Denmark. “It was difficult to get the timing right,” she said. 

While Jones was able to begin her program on schedule, some of her peers “had been testing positive because they had previously had COVID and had to wait until (their tests) came back negative,” she added. Certain COVID-19 PCR tests can continue to show a positive result after the infected person is no longer contagious. 

Denmark is not the only country that requires a negative PCR test from inbound air passengers. As of Dec. 6, 2021, the U.S. government requires that everyone intending to enter the country via plane “show documentation of a negative viral test result taken within one day of the flight’s departure.” The University will not cover the cost of these tests for students returning from trips abroad, according to an FAQ page about Spring 2022 study abroad on the Healthy Brown website.

Shantal Hernández ’23, who is on OIP’s “Brown in France” program, did note various alterations to typical abroad activities. “Some (in-person) orientation and cultural activities that have happened in previous years have been canceled or replaced with safer alternatives,” she wrote in an email to The Herald.

“Parisian locals have been very cautious with COVID,” Hernández added. “Most people wear their masks both indoors and outdoors in public spaces, and (it) is required to show proof of both vaccinations and a booster … to enter most local businesses.” Hernández also noted that most environments with a high likelihood of exposure, such as clubs and restaurants, are closed.

Jones noted similar vigilance around COVID-19 among the locals in Copenhagen. “Denmark is on their game with COVID precautions,” she said. “Most people here are wearing good masks, like surgical or KN95s, … and are tested twice a week at free local testing centers.” 

Both Jones and Hernández reported that their abroad programs have suspended “homestay” housing in which students stay with a local resident during their time abroad. 

Participating in a program such as DIS Copenhagen had been a goal of Jones’s since the beginning of her undergraduate career. “I’ve already learned so much just being here for four days,” she said. “Setting your life up in a completely different context, you start to see that the American way isn’t the only way.” 

“Honestly, I felt pretty nervous leading up to the program,” Jones added. “But now that I’m here I actually feel safer than in the U.S.” Jones hopes to come away from the program with more knowledge on environmentally sustainable policy and infrastructure and “a more global perspective.”

Participation in study abroad programs was lower in fall 2021, the first semester that study abroad resumed after the pandemic, than in pre-pandemic years, The Herald previously reported. Both Hernández and Jones said they have encouraged their peers to consider studying abroad while at Brown. 

“I would highly recommend studying abroad to anyone considering it,” Hernández wrote. She also advised students to consult the OIP directly with any questions throughout the application process.

“I know it’s intimidating given the COVID-related complications — and a lot of people have been dissuaded from studying abroad because of our already-reduced time taking classes in-person at Brown,” Jones said. “But it’s worth it.” 

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