Opinion: Facing the changes in a post-pandemic world after traveling abroad

Photo courtesy of Preston Valles

Going back to campus this semester will be no easy feat. For the past couple years, we as a student body have been accustomed to learning in a hybrid or online environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fortunately, studying abroad was an option for those who wanted to expand their academic experience during the tail end of a global pandemic. 

I studied abroad in the Basque town of Bilbao, Spain, at the beginning of 2022. Traveling during a pandemic was unnerving in and of itself. Additionally, I was going to be living amongst people whose first language was not English and whose customs differed greatly from those in the United States. 

At the time, mask mandates had been lifted at most universities in the United States, but in Spain, masks were still strongly enforced both inside and outside. This was the first difference I noticed once I arrived in Madrid. Signage was placed everywhere to inform passengers of the mask mandates in place and the consequences we’d face if we did not comply.

Arriving in Bilbao was a culture shock, having to immediately switch languages when speaking to the employees in the airport and the locals on the streets. Not only were we immersing ourselves in a new country, but we were also fulfilling our credit requirements for each of our universities. 

[Student wearing a mask in front of Chaffee Hall.]
Photo courtesy of Preston Valles

From my three years at Boise State University, I was accustomed to living in a pandemic state of mind. Consciously wearing masks when asked to, sanitizing regularly and attending online classrooms via Zoom on the scheduled days. 

However, at the University of Pais Vasco, Bilbao, this was not the case. Classes were to be taught in person, while following the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) COVID-19 protocols. Yes, we had to wear masks as we did in Boise, but the in-person teaching was an alien concept to me, having had Zoom classes for two years prior. 

I was excited to go into a classroom and learn again because I was able to meet the professors first hand, talk to the local students at the university and adapt to my surroundings comfortably. In my academic experience via Zoom, learning and speaking a new language proved to be more difficult than in person. With this new change, I was excited to put my linguistic skills to the test. 

Every class for every student was held in person, such as the surfing and cooking classes. Had these been online, I would have had a more difficult time building my skills throughout the semester, for obvious reasons. 

I lived with students from the United States who all faced similar academic highs and lows of learning during a pandemic. I was excited to meet my peers and live in such close proximity to them because with that, I was able to build a network of peers from all over the United States, in addition to students from Spain who were attending the same university in Bilbao. 

Throughout these four months, mask mandates and COVID-19 regulations came and went but by the end of my term, mask mandates were lifted from schools and we were able to attend classes as if we were living in a pre-pandemic world. This was one of the biggest and most impactful changes to my experience abroad.

By now, these four months have passed, I have returned to Idaho and the time has come for the fall semester to begin at Boise State. Regardless of mask requirements in classrooms or on campus, I am excited to re-immerse myself in the campus I fell in love with three years ago. 

Although I am apprehensive toward the thought of returning to a maskless, face-to-face learning environment, I am hopeful that my academic experience will reflect the skills that I have collected both at Boise State and abroad.

As for the administration of Boise State University, we as a student body are relying on the good judgment of students and faculty to keep us safe and healthy as we trudge past the hardships of a global pandemic.

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