As many students prepare to depart for spring break adventures abroad, Penn Abroad's Global Support Services and International Risk Management have advice to keep students safe from COVID-19.
Director of International Risk Management Jaime Molyneux recommends that students and faculty members who will be traveling — especially internationally — take several precautions: make sure to be vaccinated and boosted, don't travel with symptoms, pack an extra two weeks of medication, bring a laptop and course materials in the event that circumstances prevent a timely return to Philadelphia when classes resume on March 14, and bring COVID-19 rapid tests.
After several students on a January course trip to the Galápagos Islands were forced to quarantine in Ecuador upon testing positive, Molyneux said Penn Global’s guidelines for travel are “kind of ‘lessons learned’ from winter break.”
Molyneux added that she encourages students to familiarize themselves with their destination’s travel guidelines and testing requirements since many countries are continuing to update their requirements as the public health situation changes. She added that the testing requirements to return to the United States will likely pose the most problems for travelers.
“All travelers need to take a COVID-19 test to reenter the U.S., and that's where the majority are going to get stuck. Because many of our travelers over winter break didn't even have symptoms, they were shocked,” Molyneux said. “So it's important for travelers to remember that even though the mask mandates may be relaxed, even though you may be doing group travel or socializing in crowded touristy areas, take extra precautions. Because, unlike the local people, you need to get back to your country.”
Besides managing COVID-19, Penn Abroad is also continuing to monitor the situation in Ukraine. One Penn group was initially slated to go to Ukraine over the break, but prior to the Russian invasion, made the decision not to travel there. Molyneux said she is currently coordinating with the University’s private security vendor, the U.S. Department of State, and contacts on the ground.
The 530 individuals traveling through Penn-affiliated programs include groups from the design school, the Lauder Institute, Wharton Leadership Ventures, global modular courses, and a global immersion program. One Penn Global Seminar will also travel to Greece over the break.
College and Wharton senior Niteesh Vemuri will travel to Athens through the global seminar. While Greece only requires travelers to show proof of vaccination, Penn is still requiring that the 13 students and two administrators on the trip receive a negative PCR test before their departure, he said. The group will also be testing for COVID-19 prior to their return to the U.S.
Vemuri, who is excited to gain special access to the Parthenon and Acropolis through the seminar, said he is “genuinely optimistic” about the course trip.
“The administration has been super forward with us about what the risks are. Overall, I'm very positive that that they're doing everything they can to keep us in good hands," he said.
"Traveling is not as easy as it used to be," Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé told The Daily Pennsylvanian, "especially if people are traveling outside of the U.S."
Dubé also recommends that students prepare for the unexpected and develop a contingency plan in the event of getting stuck away from campus.
If students develop a preparedness plan before traveling, Dubé said that "students might be able to enjoy themselves better than to have to scramble at the end and put together a plan after they partake in spring break activities."