Florida universities update study abroad plans and keep students engaged through virtual outlets

As the world gradually opens up again, FAU provides recommendations allowing students to study abroad.


Photo courtesy of Elements5 Digital via Unsplash

Taylor Reid, Staff Writer

As the world gradually opens up again, FAU students can now participate in approved third-party study abroad programs for the Summer 2021 session.

Study abroad requests must be approved six to eight weeks in advance of the program’s start date. The university will closely monitor health updates each week to ensure the safety of students, faculty, and staff traveling abroad. 

Education Abroad, a team of staff that works with students interested in learning abroad, released an update for Summer 2021 plans on March 8. These plans detail the university’s recommendations concerning study abroad opportunities.

The university will provide students, faculty, and staff with any further updates on the study abroad website and their Instagram page.

While students can expect some opportunities to study abroad in upcoming semesters, the university has yet to set plans for programs led by faculty. 

“As it relates to our faculty-led programs for the Fall 2021 and the Spring 2022, we are actively planning the details,” said Jovana Gardener, an Education Abroad graduate assistant, in an email. 

This update comes after a period of uncertainty during lockdowns the year before. The university took necessary precautions during the height of the pandemic for the safety of the students and faculty.

“When the pandemic hit at the very beginning, everything happened so fast. For Study Abroad, we communicated a lot with our students,” said Madison McShane, a director from Education Abroad.

The study abroad department did not require students to return home, but some students elected to stay, McShane said. Education Abroad worked closely with students and international partner universities to monitor any changes as the pandemic progressed.

“We listened to our students, their concerns, and whatever they needed support with,” McShane said, referring to students who were abroad during that time.

Education Abroad provided students with some financial compensation after careful evaluation of each student and their programs. 

Other Florida universities experienced similar changes in travel abroad as they tracked the progression of the pandemic in countries their students were in.

Florida International University scheduled spring break for Feb. 24 through Feb. 29 of 2020. This allowed for students to travel early on in the spring semester. But things changed within a matter of a few weeks.

“We were really fortunate last year,” said Susy Gomez, an associate director from the Office of Education Abroad at FIU, referring to the opportunity students had to travel. 

But the university made adjustments as it observed the progression of COVID-19 worldwide.

“It was a really hard time. I feel like everything happened very quickly,” Gomez said. FIU remained in contact with students in the education abroad programs as FAU did.

FIU canceled all summer travel to prioritize the safety of the students and faculty. The university worked with students and programs to help students receive compensation for shortened or canceled trips where available. 

The University of Florida also worked closely with students during this time. 

We had 278 students out in the spring and brought most of them home, after the lockdown started abroad,” said Susanne Hill in an email. She is the executive director of UF’s International Center where students can find study abroad services. 

The university did not have faculty-led trips in the spring of last year for safety concerns, but never canceled study abroad. Students still traveled in Fall 2020 and expect travel to continue in future semesters. 

Universities making such decisions communicate with peer institutions state-wide through the State University System. They also follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as health and safety guidelines vary by country. 

Although study abroad is not expected to be as it was before, universities found ways to keep students engaged. 

“Global learning is a big deal at FIU,” said Gomez. The university recently received the 2021 Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization from the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers, a prominent nonprofit association for international education.

On Nov. 18, 2020, FIU converted its annual fall study abroad conference into a virtual event for students interested in taking their learning experience outside of the classroom. The university also partnered with third-party service providers to promote other virtual opportunities. 

“Virtual study abroad is here to stay,” Gomez said. 

FIU’s plans are still tentative for the upcoming spring and fall semesters.

FAU turned to social media and virtual events to provide students with a safer way to explore top travel destinations like Madrid, London, or Paris, and other countries around the world.

Students could attend virtual world tours, virtual trips to museums, and get helpful advice from weekly #TravelTipTuesday posts. They could visit museums like the National Museum of Korea, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and the Australian Museum in Sydney all by using a link Education Abroad provided. 

“We’re really lucky, though, with technology,” McShane said about being able to communicate with students around the world and engage with those who were unable to travel.

FAU established the Global Ambassador Program last September where current students who traveled abroad can share their experiences with others who are interested in learning in another country.

The university also promoted its Peace Corps Prep Certificate Program to help students build global competency and leadership skills. FAU became an official site for the PCP back in 2018.

“Our goal was to keep students excited about international travel in general,” McShane said. FAU and other universities hope to allow students to continue learning abroad but in ways that prioritize their health.

Taylor Reid is a Staff Writer for the University Press. For information on this or other stories, contact her on Twitter and Instagram @tayyalissa.