Penn Abroad is significantly expanding the study abroad programs available to students this coming spring, following limited options in the fall 2021 semester due to COVID-19.
For spring 2022, 191 Penn students have been accepted to study abroad in 45 different programs across 18 countries — a significant jump from the 39 students currently studying abroad in just seven countries. The 18 countries span Europe, Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa.
Students studying abroad this spring must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, attend in-person classes at their host program, and comply with their respective country's rules and protocols.
Senior Associate Director of Penn Abroad Erica Sebastian said the jump in participation is “symbolic of a slow and steady return to study abroad” and reflects a broader trend within college study abroad programs nationwide. Over 200 students typically study abroad in the spring semester, indicating that Penn is close to pre-pandemic numbers. In spring 2020, Penn sent a record number of more than 350 students abroad.
Penn Abroad continues to work closely with the Committee on Travel Risk Assessment, which was created in response to the pandemic, to monitor and support University travel.
“We work really closely and collaboratively with our partners abroad, as well as with Penn leadership and CTRA, to make sure that every student who is accepted fully understands Penn and the host programs’ guidelines and expectations before they commit,” Sebastian said.
Sebastian said Penn Abroad secured approval for its applicants in early November. The 191 accepted students have until the end of Thanksgiving break to confirm their commitment to study abroad next semester.
Of the 18 countries to which students were accepted, seven — Ireland, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Israel, and Greece — are currently classified as “Level 4: COVID-19 Very High” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But although the CDC advises people to avoid travel to these destinations, Sebastian said CTRA approved the travel because there is infrastructure on the ground to mitigate risks.
Sebastian added that, thus far, Penn Abroad has experienced no issues with students who are currently overseas.
The University will continue to require students to register all personal trips through Penn’s travel registration system, allowing them to make trips to destinations that are pre-approved by Penn so long as the return trip does not require testing or quarantine. Penn policy states that students must adhere to their host programs’ requirements, which may include additional travel restrictions. For example, CASA Barcelona and Seville programs currently require that students remain in Spain for the duration of the semester.
College senior J’Aun Johnson, who is currently studying abroad with eight other Penn students through the CASA Seville program, said that while the travel restrictions are not ideal, he has really enjoyed his experience in Spain so far. Johnson has been able to visit the Spanish cities of Granada, Malaga, Cordoba, and Ronda, and is planning a trip to Barcelona for this coming weekend.
“It's definitely an experience I felt like I needed personally to really just grow as a person. It's probably going to be a hallmark of my college life,” he said. “I’m getting that truly immersive experience, where you're forced to communicate in Spanish and you hear it all the time, and you see it all the time.”
Next semester, College junior Sylvia Goldfond will be studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland, at Trinity College. She said her biggest hope is that she will be able to travel across Europe, although she is aware that travel restrictions may be put in place depending on COVID-19 positivity rates.
“I'm looking forward to getting away from the Penn bubble a little bit — just living in a whole new country and experiencing that life,” Goldfond said. “It's going to feel like [my first] year again, just not knowing anybody and going into a whole new country.”
Wharton junior Andrew Spangler, who will be studying at the London School of Economics next semester, also hopes to travel across the continent and said that LSE has not yet made any explicit mention of travel restrictions for students. Spangler has friends who will be studying in Spain and Italy whom he wants to visit during the spring.
“If you have all of your vaccines and you're staying relatively safe and following protocols, then I'm not super worried,” Spangler said. “I see it almost in a similar vein to the same way I'd be acting here on campus. I plan to conduct myself similarly abroad.”
In addition to study abroad options, Penn Abroad is also planning travel for the eight Penn Global Seminar courses slated for the spring semester, as well as for Global Research and Internship Programs this coming summer.
“Obviously, the situation remains fluid and it's impossible to predict, but I do feel incredibly optimistic about study abroad this spring and next year and in the future,” Sebastian said. “I do think that we will maybe even surpass pre-pandemic levels. I think students want to go abroad.”