Penn students are balancing health and learning experiences while studying abroad during the spring semester despite globally increasing Omicron cases.
Over 190 Penn students were accepted into 45 different programs across 18 countries for the spring 2022 semester. Penn has been working with the Committee on International Travel Risk Assessment (CITRA) to review University travel for study abroad programs and ensure safety among student travelers amid a rise in COVID-19 cases.
All programs that were put forward to CITRA were approved for spring 2022, besides programs in countries where borders are still closed, such as China, Russia, and Japan, Penn Abroad Director Nigel Cossar said.
College junior Andrea Pinga is studying in Vienna through the Bard-CEU study abroad program. She said that while regulations in the country are strict, she is glad the program was not canceled.
“I’ve always known I wanted to study abroad. I was always planning to go my junior year, and thankfully, COVID didn’t really mess that up,” she said.
While CITRA approved the study abroad programs, it stipulated that students — studying in countries where testing or quarantine is required for travel — are not allowed to travel out of the pre-approved country they are studying in.
“Personal travel, overall, is restricted,” Cossar said. “All students have to register their travel prior to departure and are expected to also register any trips within their time abroad as well.”
This Penn-imposed regulation came as a disappointment to some students studying abroad.
Wharton sophomore Isabella DiCampli is studying abroad at King’s College London this semester through a Wharton-approved study abroad program. DiCampli said that she had wanted to study abroad since before college. Growing up in Philadelphia and attending Penn amplified her desire to go abroad for a semester, she added.
“Our orientation was the first time I heard that we weren’t allowed to leave the U.K. from Penn,” DiCampli said. “I think that’s something that I wish I would have known sooner because I had planned to travel to other places like Paris and Amsterdam.”
DiCampli described COVID-19 regulations in London as being “surprisingly relaxed” because there was no mask mandate except on public transportation and in her classes when she first arrived. Last week, England completely lifted the national mask mandate, DiCampli added.
Dicampli said that at King's, the school strongly recommends that students get COVID-19 tested twice a week but it does not actively check to ensure that students follow through with testing. Still, she said she has continued to get tested twice a week for her own “peace of mind.”
“I got my booster shot before I came specifically because I was coming to study abroad, which added peace of mind,” DiCampli said. She added that she feels more comfortable being away from home because her grandparents at home are part of the at-risk population.
Pinga said some of the health and safety policies in Austria include wearing a FFP2 mask — a highly effective, medical-grade mask used commonly throughout Europe — and a curfew at 10 p.m.
“It’s way stricter than Penn or any other place that I’ve been in,” she stated. While there is no symptom tracker like PennOpen Pass for Central European University students, Pinga said she is not concerned that students will attend class while sick.
According to Pinga, free PCR COVID-19 tests are also provided for everyone in Vienna. Students at Central European University must get tested every 48 hours to remain on campus and attend in-person classes, Pinga said.
“The testing here is so stringent that, though getting tested every day is such a hassle, it also just constantly reminds you to be on the lookout for COVID,” Pinga said. “I feel like people take it very seriously.”