By Haley Hadge
The Office of International Programs (OIP) has restarted its study-abroad program for students but has not yet approved faculty-led study tours.
Jane Decatur, director of the OIP, said there are currently six students studying abroad. Her office estimates 14 students will participate in Spring 2022.
The OIP has suspended faculty-led study tours this year due to the short length of these trips and the increase of unknown variables COVID-19 creates, said Decatur.
According to the FSU website, faculty-led programs “combine experiential learning with academics” to provide students “a fast-paced, unique course abroad.”
Decatur said these tours take place during the shorter intersessions of the school year, such as spring and winter break, and range from one to four weeks.
She added these shorter trips could create logistical challenges and result in a student missing part of the semester if they were to test positive for COVID-19 and needed to quarantine.
According to Decatur, none of the students currently studying abroad has contracted COVID-19.
She said the OIP’s protocols are based on the recommendations and research compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the U.S. Department of State.
She added the OIP “pays very close attention” to these official updates in order to best advise students and prioritize their health and well-being.
“If the State Department is saying, ‘Do not travel to this country,’ then we wouldn’t send a student to that country,” she said.
Decatur said part of the program’s preparation process now involves educating students about intercultural variances in COVID-19 safety measures.
She said students must be fully vaccinated in order to travel abroad.
According to the CDC, a person is fully vaccinated two weeks after their final dose in a “two-dose series” or “single-dose” vaccine.
Pfizer and Moderna are “two-dose series” vaccines, and Johnson & Johnson is a “single-dose” vaccine.
Although fully vaccinated travelers are “less likely” to contract and spread COVID-19, according to the CDC, international travel “poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travelers might be at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading some COVID-19 variants.”
CDC guidelines also suggest the spread of “new” and “concerning” variants call for all travelers to be vigilant of the “conditions at their destination.”
Decatur said prior to traveling, it is vital to understand and abide by the outlined requirements of the airline and destination regarding mask wearing, testing, and quarantine protocols.
She added her office stresses that students update themselves on this information throughout their stay.
The State Department’s website contains links to resources that keep travelers informed about the day-to-day changes of their region.
Decatur said, “The situation in the world is still so fluid. [It’s] tough to pin anything down.
“What is true today may not be true in another week or two,” she added.
The CDC website provides COVID-19 travel recommendations by destination, including a risk-
assessment key composed of [ve levels. The levels are “Very High,” “High,” “Moderate,” “Low,” and “Unknown.”
Currently, 83 countries are classified as “very high” risk, 76 are “high” risk, and 40 are “unknown” risk. The CDC recommends avoiding these destinations.
The U.S. is classified as a “very high” risk destination, according to the CDC.
Twenty one countries are classified at “moderate” risk, and 25 at “low” risk. The CDC recommends unvaccinated travelers who are at an “increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 to avoid nonessential travel” to these countries.
Craig McDonald, assistant director of the OIP, said, “Thankfully, many parts of the world where students are interested in going have access to vaccines and vaccination is widespread.”
Therefore, the study-abroad team has a “reasonable level of confidence” that students can count on the trips they plan to be possible, said McDonald.
He added they are always “keeping in mind that things could change.
“If it appears likely that something’s not going to work out – that the location they’re intending to go to is not going to be possible – then we would work with them to find an alternative arrangement,” McDonald said.
He added this may mean “identifying another program,” or postponing their study abroad plans and remaining on campus until international travel is “safe and responsible” for the student.
Decatur said, “Study abroad is never one-size-fits-all.”
She added COVID-19 further complicates these crucial variables that need to be considered on an individual basis.
Madison Herries, a sophomore early childhood education major, said she is considering studying abroad while at FSU, but will hold off until COVID-19 calms down.
She added, “Until more people get vaccinated, I feel like it’s better to stay put.”
Hilary Lincoln, a sophomore biology major, said she is not planning on studying abroad.
However, if she were to, she said she “would feel fine with it given that everyone has to wear masks and we’re vaccinated.”
She added, considering how much COVID-19 restrictions have been eased, studying abroad feels like a feasible option.
“The world has opened up enough that that wouldn’t make a difference compared to other things that we’re doing daily,” she said.
Ainslee Caton, a freshman environmental science and policy major, said she has “not looked too much into the program yet,” but would “love” to learn more about it.
She added it is “unsettling” to think she could bring COVID-19 back home to her friends and family.
Olivia Copeland, a sophomore English major, said, “Everything is so up in the air that it’s hard to plan for anything, which is why I haven’t really looked into it further.”
She added, “I don’t want to make plans and then have them be shattered.”
Avry Guilbert, a freshman psychology major, said she is “definitely” thinking about taking part in the program.
She added if she were traveling right now, she would be mindful of the “positivity rates.”
“I don’t [want to] bring anything back or get anyone else sick,” she said.
Though studying abroad is a personalized endeavor, Decatur said it is important students are “flexible,” and enter their planning meetings with an open mind, and are ready to adjust as they navigate a new country and culture.
She added when students study abroad they will often travel to nearby countries.
“Going from England to Germany might not be possible at that particular point in time,” she said. Checking in with their host university is essential in order to understand any current ground restrictions.
McDonald said in order to best serve student health and educational needs, “honest conversations” need to be cultivated.
Decatur said communication is “the key to anybody who’s going abroad this year, and maybe into the foreseeable future.”
She said, “If you look at the wider world – it’s going to be several more years before significant numbers of people worldwide are vaccinated.”
The OIP is constantly reevaluating the situation, she said. “Frankly, I don’t see our numbers coming back to normal levels until the world situation improves significantly.”
Despite the challenges, McDonald said, “It is still possible to study abroad responsibly and safely.
“If this is something you wanted to do when you came to college or if it is something you’re thinking about ... the world is still there,” he said.