The World is Calling, and I Must Go
A College Student's Guide to Study Abroad, Internships Abroad, and COVID-19
It is no secret that many college students and recent graduates have had their fair share of plans derailed or cancelled due to the presence of COVID-19. One common experience that many had to put on hold is study abroad, which traditionally has been a wonderful way for students to not only fulfill college credits but to immerse themselves into a culture unfamiliar to their own and learn by doing, rather than by sitting in a classroom.
I am one of those students who had a 2020 study abroad trip derailed. I was scheduled to study accounting in Dublin and Galway, Ireland for that summer. Ireland is an incredibly academically aesthetic place, with many universities covered in ivy-bricked walls and filled with friendly peers. When I booked my plane ticket in early February, my dad and I briefly debated whether I should purchase trip insurance, ultimately deciding against it. A little over a month later, I realized what a mistake I had made. Not only was my Summer 2020 abroad cancelled, but my Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 options were wiped out, too. I was heartbroken. My experience is not a one-in-a-million. It is a collective opinion of loss and frustration at the thought of what could have been.
Good news. With vaccination rates exponentially increasing, the presence of masks, trip-insurance, and soon-to-be open borders, the option to study abroad is just around the corner. Many U.S. college students are ready to take the leap to study in a foreign country, even though uncertainty still looms.
So how can students better prepare to study abroad in light of COVID-19?
Buy the trip insurance
While it may be a hassle or a financial pain to purchase trip insurance, it is recommended to not only purchase it for airline travels, but any hotel or Airbnb booking, any excursions, and more. Basically, if a website offers trip insurance, it is for a reason. You may lose a couple dollars paying for the insurance, but it is better than losing hundreds, if not thousands. Also, it is recommended for international and domestic travel to book refundable tickets, trips, and housing. The more knowledgeable you are about cancellation policies and refund options, the better prepared you will be to enjoy your trip with no surprises.
Check your destination country’s COVID-19 news
Not only is it important to purchase insurance, but it is also important to research the country in which you plan to travel to and study. Find the site where your destination country’s official COVID-19 travel advisories are updated. Start by referencing the U.S. State Department’s list. Look for information on the country’s border status (open or closed) and their criteria for entering the country. Next, look at the country’s trend of opening and closing its borders. If the country has continually gone into lockdown and closed its borders, there is a chance it will close its borders again before you arrive, taking your money, security deposits, and everything you spent along with it. Moral of the story, research is your best friend. The more you know, the more peace of mind you will have!
Check for Visa requirements
So, you booked your trip, bought trip insurance, and did your research on your future home-away-from-home. What next? Well, most individuals who have lived abroad agree that the hardest part about studying or working abroad is obtaining a Visa or whichever pass is necessary for your chosen country. Typically, obtaining a Visa is a drawn out and stressful process. Do not procrastinate this process as obtaining a Visa will likely require a visit to the country’s embassy which may even require an additional plane ticket. The faster you can arrange a Visa, the less stress you will endure and the more money you will save!
Seek authentic tourism advice
Immersing yourself into the culture is a large part of the true experience abroad; however, it is important to not just follow popular tourist destination websites. Consider networking and reaching out to old friends who have spent time in the country. They can give you a first-hand break-down on the country’s customs and ‘norms’ that a tourism site cannot. They can provide insights on where to stay, where to avoid, must-sees, must-dos, where to eat, where to not eat, and even simple mannerisms that are acceptable in the country!
I know this process is long; trust me, I have been there. But when your chosen country opens and you ‘check all the boxes’, you are going to have an amazing time and will remember your trip for the rest of your life. Despite new variants of COVID-19, do not lose hope; many countries rely on tourism for a large source of income. They want you to visit just as much as you do.
Trust the process and enjoy your time!
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