The decision to study abroad during a pandemic

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Plans for 2-week quarantine accommodations, COVID-19 restrictions, more paperwork at immigration, COVID-19 tests, news of COVID-19 variants and online classes are just some of the additional things for UConn students who have decided to study abroad for the fall 2021 semester have to consider.

Despite not being guaranteed a “normal” study abroad experience due to COVID-19, several students still persisted to apply to study abroad at Sogang and Korea University in South Korea. Both Sogang and Korea University will be starting their fall semester on Sept. 1. At an unusual time in history, what do study abroad students have to say about their experience so far even before the semester begins? 

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova from Pexels

“It was my last chance to study abroad before I graduate and studying abroad was something that I dreamed about doing when I was in college,” Michelle Li, a seventh-semester molecular and cell biology major said.

Instead of graduating a semester early, Li decided to use it as an opportunity to study abroad.  

“I decided to study abroad during this time because I thought it would be best to travel now during my sophomore year, then return to focus hard on my studies,” Adriana Hall, a third-semester undecided major said. “With the development of the vaccine, I’d thought that things were starting to get back to normal too.”

She added that despite her experience of traveling from high school, it was the first time she traveled alone so she had to take responsibility to meet deadlines on her own. Hall said she will be attending Sogang University in Seoul, South Korea. 

According to the Korean Central Disaster Management and Central Disease Headquarters, currently, there is a 2% positivity rate of over 1,000 cases a day in Korea. People in the greater Seoul region need to adhere to level 4 social distancing guidelines until Sept. 5. 

“At the moment, the guidelines are already affecting the social experience,” Li said. “One of the restrictions that are in place right now is that they are only allowing people to be in groups of up to 4 people before 6 pm and groups of 2 after 6 pm. Due to this, there isn’t really the freedom to hang out with everyone you want to at certain times.”

As of Aug. 23, those who are vaccinated, however, can form groups of up to four people in cafes and restaurants after 6 p.m. According to Reuters’s COVID-19 tracker, only 35.1% of the population has been vaccinated. 

“Although these factors will negatively impact what I can do here, I’m not mad at it at all because it’s necessary for the country to lower the cases,” Hall said. “I only hope that the people with covid have a smooth recovery and that their families are protected. On the bright side, the vaccines are slowly rolling out, so I hope that they will be able to reach the 70% vaccinated.”

Kanakapriya Chelladurai, a seventh-semester financial management major adds the importance of asking questions to UConn students who have studied abroad in the past and planning your study abroad experience in terms of how it will affect graduation.

Li added that the application with Experimental Global Learning was fairly easy but after her acceptance to Korea University, keeping track of the different deadlines from Korea University was more difficult. She advises students who are looking to study abroad to ask for recommendations early and keep track of deadlines. 

“At the moment, I haven’t really experienced any culture shock since many aspects of Korean culture are similar to my own culture,” Li said. “One example of this is the age hierarchy. I grew up in my Chinese and Vietnamese culture, where people are expected to respect their elders. This is a great contrast to American culture, where age does not determine the amount of respect you get.”

Going to a new country is a different experience for everyone. While Li might not have experienced a culture shock yet, Chelladurai said she noticed some interesting things different from the American culture. 

According to Chelladurai, crane machines are used to move belongings inside high-rise apartments instead of elevators. Chelladurai noticed that most car windows are heavily tinted. She also found wifi to be very accessible in Korea compared to the U.S. 

Despite some of the limitations, COVID-19 may bring, current exchange students are looking forward to meeting friends, learning the language and culture.

“We have already seen how it is affecting us as orientation was online and many classes are online,” Chelladurai who is studying at Korea University for the fall 2021 semester said. “Furthermore, many activities the school would have planned for us are deemed tentative if not canceled. It is nice though that the country takes covid very seriously. The majority of activities we can still do, but just with an added layer of caution.”

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