December 3, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Cecilia Timberg | Photo by Tamar Crump

Over Fall Break, I grew accustomed to the confused looks I drew from friends and family when I told them that this spring semester I will be studying Mandarin Chinese in Singapore, Phuket, and Bangkok.

My explanation for my abroad plans almost became a script. The nuances in logistics were a bewildering maze for the uninitiated.

“If we were to travel to China, we would have to quarantine 14 to 21 days, which would mean that the better part of the class would be spent in a hotel room. Singapore has no quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated Americans, so we are going there instead,” I would tell my relatives.

Study abroad programs have had to rapidly adapt to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. These adaptions have made travel plans tricky and confusing to navigate. My study abroad program is no exception – and explaining all of this to relatives was no easy task.

“From Singapore, we fly to Phuket because there are no quarantine restrictions for Thailand only if you travel through Phuket and stay at a SHA+ certified hotel for seven days,” I would continue. “Then we fly to Bangkok, which has a large Chinese population and therefore an opportunity for immersion.”

My explanation quickly became a speech I learned to say in double-speed without stumbling over a word.

The responses to this complex travel plan ranged from genuine excitement to deep concern. On the one hand, traveling overseas for the first time since spring of 2020 is exciting. On the other hand, the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic strikes fear and weariness.

Both are valid emotional responses and I feel both simultaneously. As Colorado College struggled with its own outbreak in Block 3, and as I watch friends get trapped abroad by the new Omicron variant, I am questioning my desperate attempt at some level of immersion in an era when human interaction is greatly limited.

“What has allowed us to finally return to having programs overseas is a combination of carefully designed criteria we can use to evaluate safety and travel viability, enhanced COVID protocols for all study away programs, and, thankfully, generally improving conditions around the world,” said Allen Bertsche, the Director of Global Education at CC.

The Center for Global Education and Field Study has made it their goal to prioritize safety without undermining the experience of the students studying abroad.

Every program run must be evaluated along 10 different criteria. This includes the Center for Disease Control’s ratings for intended destination, an absence of quarantine requirements, ability to gather and engage in most class activities, and basic access to medical care, restaurants, museums, and public transportation.

The Center for Global Education was hoping to run study abroad programs last spring and summer, but all of the programs had to be cancelled due to an inability to meet these criteria. Although there is still a “very real possibility” that some programs may be cancelled in the spring, “conditions are slowly improving in much of the world,” Bertsche said, which keeps him hopeful.

“We have had some adjustments [on housing abroad], but fortunately we have not had to abandon a wide range of options,” Bertsche said. There are programs staying in hotels, local university facilities, and in home stays. This diversity in lodging options is common for CC study abroad programs and is one way in which the programs are maintaining their pre-COVID-19 integrity.

The Center for Global Education has put a lot of thought and time into creating an evaluation plan that is multivariable and has many checks built into it in hopes to bring back immersive, overseas experiences to students.

“It is all about facilitating cultural and intercultural experiences for us, so the big excitement is the ability to see students once again immersing themselves in new cultures, encountering other ways of living, other value systems, other perspectives, and having those encounters help shape them,” Bertsche said.[1] 

Although changing pandemic conditions may result in some altered travel schedules and class activities, it is clear that it is the priority of the Center for Global Education to get students back across borders safely and experiencing new cultures this spring.

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