The pandemic brought Brandeis’ study abroad programs to a grinding halt last year, but students hoping to study abroad may have the opportunity to do so this coming summer and in the fall semester. The University has opened the application period for upcoming 2021 study abroad programming, but the constantly changing circumstances of the pandemic have led to much uncertainty.

Alisha Cardwell, the director of the Office of Study Abroad, explained the current status of study abroad for 2021 and 2022 in a Feb. 8 email to the Justice. “We’ve been continuing to work closely with our program partners overseas to learn about updates and changes that they are making on-the-ground in order to create as safe of an experience as possible for students studying abroad,” she wrote.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the evolving COVID-19 crisis and ever-changing pandemic-induced travel restrictions, the University is anticipating that traveling for study abroad will be possible by the summer. Because of this, the two Brandeis-led study abroad programs, Brandeis in Copenhagen and Brandeis in Siena, as well as many of the approved affiliated programs are expected to run, according to the COVID-19 information webpage for the Office of Study Abroad. The office, as well as individual programs, will make changes as necessary, however, as they monitor the situation. Applications for studying abroad in summer 2021, fall 2021 and spring 2022 are now being accepted, with fall and spring applications due March 4 and summer applications due March 18.

Cardwell also shared some of the changes that will likely be made to the programs to adhere to health and safety guidelines and ensure a safer experience. Should study abroad operate as planned, Cardwell wrote, some of the changes that program administrators have made include: “Changing housing options for better spaces to self-isolate or quarantine if necessary, changing travel components and excursions on programs, creating space for social distancing within classrooms, daily temperature checks and health questionnaires [and] following any testing or quarantine requirements upon entry.” The way that study abroad programs respond to the pandemic will depend on the region of the world that the program takes place because the risk of contracting the virus varies greatly between different locations.

As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, so will the University’s policies. “We continue to monitor the global health situation and will begin to make decisions later this semester as to whether the summer term abroad will remain active,” Cardwell wrote. She added that the permissibility of studying abroad will also depend upon whether the University's travel policies –– which currently state that travel is still suspended –– change come summer time.

If the pandemic worsens and study abroad programming must be canceled for another year, students who applied to study abroad in the fall semester will be able to spend that semester on the Brandeis campus per usual. As explained on the Office of Study Abroad webpage, “Depending on the circumstances, staff will be able to assist with determining the availability of on-campus housing and other logistics, but students would never be forced to miss a semester at Brandeis due to their inability to study abroad.” 

Furthermore, even if study abroad programming is still available, any students who are uncomfortable traveling or cannot travel due to COVID-19 will have until April to withdraw from spending the fall 2021 or spring 2022 semesters abroad. It should be noted, however, that although this is the case for most of the programs, commitment deadlines may vary for some of the affiliated programs, meaning students may have earlier deadlines to apply and commit to studying abroad than those set by Brandeis.

Cardwell added that should a student want to study abroad in the future after withdrawing from this year's programs, they would still have that opportunity and could work with a study abroad advisor to determine their options.

For students in majors or minors where studying abroad is a requirement or often used to fulfill a requirement, there are alternative options in case going abroad isn't feasible, Cardwell wrote. International and Global Studies majors who must fulfill the international experience requirement, for instance, can now satisfy this requirement with a remote internship (or two to three micro-internships) that focus on international issues. According to the updated list of ways to fulfill this IGS requirement, the micro-internship option is recommended should a student not be able to get a regular internship. There are also similar options for Health: Science, Society and Policy majors who often use study abroad to fulfill the hands-on experience requirement.

The University recommends, however, that students graduating in 2021 who have not yet completed these requirements consider a study abroad alternative. Students graduating in a later year still have time to study abroad, assuming that this option soon becomes available, and are recommended to continue completing major or minor requirements under that assumption. Cardwell noted that students should contact their majors’ or minors’ undergraduate advising head with questions if seeking an alternative to a study abroad experience. 

As the semester progresses, Brandeis, along with its affiliated study abroad programs, will continue to monitor the pandemic and the possibility of safely traveling abroad. With the March application deadline fast approaching, students can continue to plan to study abroad this year, but remain mindful of changing circumstances. “While we are eager to begin sending students abroad again, the health and safety of our Brandeis students is our top priority,” Cardwell wrote.