As with many other programs, study abroad opportunities for the Spring 2022 semester at the University of Connecticut could be drastically affected by the COVID-19 omicron variant.
According to Dr. Ngozi Taffe, the assistant vice president for Global Affairs at Experiential Global Learning, it is still too soon to tell what study abroad will look like in the spring.
“It’s still too soon to say,” Taffe said via phone call. “One thing that we know about the COVID virus is that it’s constantly changing with regards to entry restrictions, with regards to the severity and things like that. We have students who have applied to study abroad in the spring semester. We’re watching what’s going on around the world just about on a daily basis, and we have advised students accordingly as well, to understand where we are. But it’s too early to say if those programs will run. We’re remaining hopeful that they will run but obviously our number-one concern is for the safety of our students.”
The Office of Experiential Global Learning (EGL), formerly known as the Education Abroad Office, underwent a name change in May 2021. The modified name takes into account the office’s expansion to include virtual programming options as well as traditional learning programs abroad.
“[The new name] covers the regular study abroad, domestic, international, virtual programs, so there’s a lot going on,” Taffe said.
Due to the pandemic, the past couple years were difficult for EGL and programs had to be cancelled, according to Taffe.
“The beginning of the pandemic, back in March — that was when we actually canceled programs, we shut down school, et cetera,” Taffe added. “At that point we already had students overseas, so we called them back. At the time, very little was known about the virus [and] we didn’t have vaccines. But since then, obviously students are now vaccinated, folks are vaccinated, so things are a little better now than they were back in 2020.”
However, some traditional study abroad programs were allowed to run during the Fall 2021 semester.
“There are some programs that ran this fall,” Taffe said. “We are very careful with regards to monitoring COVID around the world and also watching the entry restrictions of various countries — and that’s in addition to the state department and CDC guidelines.”
If any changes are to be made to spring-semester study abroad programs, they will be dependent on the state department and CDC’s guidelines, as well as the University’s policies, according to Taffe.
“There are all these different factors that go into deciding whether or not we can engage in study abroad,” Taffe added. “…Also, there have been some countries that prohibited foreigners from traveling to their country. So, there isn’t one clear thing that would lead us to cancel programs — it’s really a variety of factors that we have to consider.”
Taffe then emphasized the importance of study abroad for student learning, whether in person or virtual.
“This is hard to say because we’re under a pandemic, but obviously we strongly encourage students to engage in global learning,” Taffe said. “We think it’s very important for the development of a well-rounded student. We still ask students to follow us on Instagram, follow us on our website and to stay apprised of what’s going on with EGL. We feel very strongly about being part of the global world that we live in and want to encourage students to engage globally in whichever way that they can — either in person [or] virtually.”