How students are studying abroad during a pandemic

Photo courtesy Braelynn Whitelock
[Photo of Braelyn Whitelock in Aberystwyth, Wales in Feb 2021]
Photo courtesy Braelyn Whitelock

Even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, 12 Boise State students are currently studying abroad this spring semester.

According to Corrine Henke, the director of the Global Learning Opportunities office, the studying abroad program through Boise State, about 300 students study abroad in an average year. So in comparison, the number of students abroad right now is extremely low.

“It was kind of our official stance that they don’t go [last fall],” Henke said. “But then for spring, because our policy is based on the state department levels, there were some programs running and students still wanted to go. So, we worked with them on that.”

Henke explained that students were informed beforehand that their programs could get canceled and they’d have to come home at any time. However, their biggest worry is that students will go somewhere that cannot pivot to online if their university were to close down because some countries don’t really have that option.

“Part of them assuming all these risks of doing it is that they understand that if [their program gets canceled], they could get stuck there or have to pay for a flight home,” Henke said. “I think things are eventually calming down, but I mean that’s part of them assuming the risks of going.”

Braelyn Whitelock, a junior entrepreneurship management and global studies student, is one of the few students who is studying abroad right now, and is currently studying at Prifysgol Aberystwyth University located in Aberystwyth, Wales.

It has been two months since she arrived in Wales and Whitelock doesn’t regret going during the pandemic. She always knew she wanted to study abroad, and she didn’t want to miss the chance.

“I still have a bunch of things I want to do back home at Boise State and I only have a year left, so it was kind of now or never,” Whitelock said. “The opportunity was still open and they never told me I couldn’t, so I figured I might as well do it.”

Whitelock explained that whether she was in Boise or in Wales, she’d basically be doing the same thing anyways because of the pandemic.

“I might as well do something fun and get a little bit of a different scene,” Whitelock said. “Instead of just sitting in my room in Boise, I’m sitting in a dorm room in Wales and I get to explore a new town. Plus, I’ve already had so many great experiences and I’ve met a bunch of other international students who I’ve learned so much from.”

Erin Kerr, a senior psychology major, was studying in Dublin, Ireland last spring when the pandemic hit and she was sent home half a semester early.

“What happened to me basically was that all my classes were on Irish time, which means that I took my finals at 2:45 in the morning,” Kerr said. “I had to do group projects with people, and I would call them at nine in the morning as they were about to go to bed. It was really crazy with the time break.”

According to Kerr, after she discovered she had to come back to Boise, she had about a week to do some exploring, so she and her roommate bought bus tickets to the other side of the country. However, what greeted them was an eerie sight.

[Photo of Erin Kerr in Dublin, Ireland in Jan 2020]
Photo courtesy Erin Kerr

“It was supposed to be for St. Patty’s Day, but that was the first day that they really did shut everything down,” Kerr said. “They shut down the pubs and the restaurants — there’s only one restaurant that we were able to go into, and we stayed in a hostel. We still had a great time, meeting people and Irish music and Jameson, but at the same time, I felt like all of the culture had been stripped from it. You can walk around and you can see it, but it was like Disneyland when there’s no kids there. Do you know what I mean? It’s just eerie and weird. It’s like you’re looking at it from the outside.”

According to Kerr, she wouldn’t want to study abroad right now during the pandemic. She wouldn’t want to go back for an entire semester if she wasn’t able to do the traveling and exploring that she did in the short amount of time that she got. 

“Even if I was given an opportunity to go spend the second half of the semester over there right now, it’s like — I’m a senior, I’m about to graduate and I’m starting my life,” Kerr said. “I can’t. That was my time. It sucked, but I got everything I could have out of it. Which makes me feel better.”

Even though Kerr and Whitelock have had very different perspectives and experiences of studying abroad amidst the pandemic, their advice to other students is the same. 

“A lot of what I’ve been telling people is I could have died on a plane crash on the way back from Barcelona. I could have gotten a really gnarly form of coronavirus,” Kerr said. “I’m only 21, I have the rest of my life to go back and explore the world. As bad as this is, it’s not the hardest form of adversity I’ve ever faced. Life is short. Do what you’ve been wanting to do.”

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