Please note that this post was written in May 2021 as the situation around coronavirus continues to rapidly evolve.
As many parts of the country and the world breathe a sigh of relief as coronavirus-related restrictions gradually lift, students’ and parents’ thoughts are likely turning once more to study away programs. Many programs that shut down when the pandemic hit are now enrolling students for the fall 2021 semester and announcing rules and restrictions—for example, the majority of programs (and educational institutions) are requiring that students be vaccinated.
Though we’ve all been in our own bubbles for a year, the study away experience can be invaluable to students as they are immersed in a different language, culture, or natural landscape. Here’s what trends we are seeing in domestic and international study away programs in a post-pandemic world (while recognizing that the coronavirus is still a threat in many areas) and how school officials and program leaders should be communicating with prospective and enrolled students.
Changes in most study away programs
Like we mentioned above, the vast majority of study away programs (like most universities) will be requiring that students be vaccinated, and likely provide proof of vaccination as a condition of participation.
Since students, instructors, and administrators will be fully vaccinated, restrictions will likely be lower than most on-campus settings last year, but some could still exist. Some programs will require testing and might ask students to wear masks in certain settings (like in some classrooms, or on public transit).
Many programs also won’t allow visitors, like friends or family visiting overnight, as they’ll want to keep the people allowed in their accommodations tightly controlled to protect students and staff members.
Domestic study away programs
US-based programs may have a unique advantage right now in their messaging, since travel to foreign countries may be fraught with logistics and legal restrictions—from the US, the host country, or the sponsoring school.
Domestic study away programs should communicate to students and parents that although students will be experiencing a different culture than what they’re likely used to, they probably already have a good handle on how the country is handling Covid restrictions, and domestic programs could be an easy way to avoid the hassles of international travel–while still experiencing immersion in a different culture.
Study abroad programs
If students are looking for full language or international cultural immersion, it might be worth navigating any Covid restrictions that are in place to get that educational experience abroad—and if students are vaccinated, should be relatively safe. Many study abroad programs have recently announced they’re operating this fall, with some restrictions in place.
In addition to restrictions mentioned above, abroad programs may also have rules about travel to other countries. Many American students abroad choose locations, such as Western Europe, where travel to other countries is cheap and accessible because they want to visit several countries while they’re away. But the rest of the world isn’t being vaccinated at the same pace as the US, and some countries may not be admitting American tourists. Likewise, abroad programs may restrict students’ travel as an extra safety measure, so students probably shouldn’t pick their destination based on the desire to travel internationally during the program.
Guidelines for communicating with students and parents
Above all, when communicating the above restrictions and changes, universities and study away programs should be honest and direct. It’s important not to overpromise and then have to take a statement back, which can decrease trust in the campus community and place more strain on students and parents coming out of a difficult year.
Audra Delaney, Viv Higher Ed’s study away expert, says, “Many schools and programs send communications about Covid that are wordy, but not informative or helpful. It’s important to communicate with admitted students when they need to know information, and to be honest when you don’t know something. Students appreciate not being overwhelmed by emails when they’re already receiving so many!”
Does your university or study away program need help communicating these rapidly changing developments to students? The full-service Viv Higher Ed team can help with your communications needs. Contact us today for a free consult and see how we can help. Schedule a consult now.