Penn Abroad will allow students to travel abroad in fall 2021 — despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a Feb. 8 email from Penn Abroad, students can apply to study abroad programs in a limited number of select locations for the upcoming semester, with the expectation that offerings will continue to increase in spring 2022.
The decision, made in consultation with Penn’s Committee on Travel Risk Assessment and with the support of University leadership, identifies abroad locations that have the greatest likelihood of meeting health and safety criteria to be "approved for travel by petition” in fall 2021. Finalized approval to study abroad in the upcoming semester depends upon the approval of the petition to travel from CTRA — which will not be granted to students until May 2021.
"While Penn Abroad has opened a small number of programs to accept applications for Fall 21, we are proceeding extremely carefully," Penn Abroad Director Nigel Cossar wrote in an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian. "As you may have already seen from the FAQs on our website, there are a number of factors that will need to be not just considered, but met, in order for programs to move ahead."
Due to global travel restrictions and travel-related health risks brought on by the pandemic, the University previously canceled all of its study abroad programming for the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters. Last spring, when the pandemic hit the United States in mid-March, University officials urged Penn students that were studying abroad to return home.
Penn Abroad will only be accepting applications to study abroad in Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Singapore, Italy, South Korea, Portugal, Japan, Spain, France, and the United Kingdom. Students will not be able to petition to study abroad in any other locations for the upcoming semester, according to Penn Abroad's fall 2021 semester FAQ page.
Although as of February 2021, the University is not requiring that applicants have received the COVID-19 vaccine, the FAQ page states that many abroad institutions may require vaccines upon entry to the country or to the university where the student plans to study.
Students wishing to travel abroad during the fall 2021 semester will also need to sign special documents pertaining to COVID-19 to ensure that they are aware of the increased risk assumed by traveling during the pandemic. Students will also be required to comply with a written set of parameters outlined by CTRA throughout their time abroad.
Penn’s undergraduate institutions will not use the letter grades of any courses students may have taken pass/fail as determinants in the study abroad application process, with the exception of the School of Nursing, which will include the letter grades earned in any clinical courses to adhere to "standards of patient care."
Penn Abroad’s FAQ page states, however, that the University cannot guarantee that abroad institutions will accept prerequisite courses from applicants who took courses pass/fail in the past two semesters.
Penn originally announced in March 2020 that students would be able to take any course in the four undergraduate schools pass/fail as a means to alleviate any potential detriments that online classes could have on students' grades. The policy was extended for both the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters. This January, however, undergraduate deans across the University released a statement that discouraged students from using the pandemic-induced pass/fail option for the current semester.
"Global opportunities are an important part of the Penn experience, and we look forward to resuming programming in the next academic year," the Penn Abroad email stated. "The opportunity to join a new global community, embrace new challenges, and take part in global experiences is one that we remain committed to helping [students] achieve as part of [their] time at Penn."
Students that previously applied for study abroad programs for fall 2021 will not be given priority in the application process, according to the FAQ page. In order to begin the application process, interested students must attend one advising session that will focus on studying abroad during the pandemic, multiple of which will be held between Feb. 15 and March 15.
"Penn is looking forward to when we can resume global programming that allows for students to travel, and while the current travel restrictions are in place that prohibit students, faculty, and staff from traveling, we are hopeful that some global programming may be able to resume come fall semester," Cossar wrote.