Study abroad programs restarted this fall — but with far fewer options than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Travel to seven countries resumed after Penn suspended study abroad programs in spring 2020 due to global travel restrictions and health risks. Students can participate in 14 programs in France, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom. In a typical semester, Penn students can apply to study abroad at 99 different programs.
In addition to limiting programs, Penn Abroad has restricted some travel components, such as trips to different cities or countries that are typically part of the study abroad experience, Penn Abroad and Global Programs Director Nigel Cossar said.
Penn Abroad worked closely with the Committee on Travel Risk Assessment, which was created in response to the pandemic, to develop a list of countries to which Penn students could safely travel. The committee’s decisions were based on the status of the pandemic and travel guidelines in each country.
Students are only permitted to study abroad in countries with in-person classes to maintain consistency with Penn students who are on campus, Cossar said. After compiling a list of programs, Penn Abroad filed petitions for each program students applied to, which were then approved or denied by the committee based on risk assessment and health guidelines.
“Safety of Penn students was definitely paramount in any of the decisions that we were making," Cossar said. "We have worked very closely with each of our partners around the world who [is] receiving Penn students for the semester to ensure that they understand what Penn is expecting of them and how we will support our students whilst on the ground at the program.”
Resident Directors are in place at each program to support students, conduct check-ins, provide support during required quarantines, and ensure their overall wellness, Cossar said. In programs without existing resident directors, Penn placed employees in the countries to fill that role.
All students studying abroad must receive the COVID-19 vaccine in accordance with Penn’s vaccine mandate, Cossar said. Students must also comply with their respective country's rules and protocols.
Despite the limited programs, students are still taking advantage of the opportunity to study abroad before graduation.
Wharton senior Michael Arther just arrived in the United Kingdom to study at the University of Cambridge: Pembroke College's international program. Arther originally planned to study abroad in spring 2020, but the program was postponed twice due to the pandemic.
“It’s been a continuous challenge to figure out what the circumstances are going to be like, but I think Penn has done a good job of explaining what the expectations are and what the process is going to look like,” Arther said.
While he is disappointed to spend part of his senior year away from campus, Arther said he believes the experience will be worth it.
“I’m definitely going to miss being on campus, but I think the rationale for still going even after the study abroad [program] was pushed back a couple times was the fact that I really won’t have this opportunity again,” he said.
Students who applied to study abroad programs that got canceled or postponed were required to reapply again this fall, Assistant Dean for Advising in the College Srilata Gangulee, who oversees Penn Abroad programs in Asia, England, and Wales, said.
Gangulee added that there are a "considerable amount" of seniors planning to study abroad during their last semesters at Penn this spring.
Cossar said he is optimistic that Penn Abroad will add more countries and programs for the spring semester depending on travel restrictions and the changing state of the pandemic.
In the meantime, Penn Abroad is also working to safely resume its global seminars — with the first class expected to travel abroad over winter break — and restart its global summer internship program, Cossar said.
“We’re hoping that the semester programming really kickstarts the rest of our global programs, because we are just as eager to bring it back,” he said.