How is COVID-19 Affecting Study Abroad? Dr. Kelly O’Brien on the new Study Abroad

“I would say we’re definitely all kind of in the same boat,” Dr. Kelly O’Brien, head of the Study Abroad program, says in response to a big question; How has Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Study Abroad students handled the COVID-19 outbreak and what effects has the pandemic had on Study Abroad? Have other colleges and universities reacted similarly? Embry-Riddle and other universities alike are working hard to come up with benchmarks that would indicate when it is safe for students to return to study abroad programs. According to Dr. O’Brien, the pandemic could bring the world closer together like other world events have. “After WWII all sorts of these types of programs developed because there was, I think, a real understanding that we need to learn to live together on this planet, and you learn to live together by living together,” she reflected. 

“Study Abroad’s mission in general, I think, is to expose students to a wider world and a diversity of cultures and perspectives through a real extensive variety of quality Study Abroad programming,” says Dr. O’Brien. 

However, the most global exposure to different cultures came to a screeching halt with the onset of COVID-19 in late Spring. Now, providers (independent organizations that plan and provide for Study Abroad programs) are struggling to get the international opportunities rolling again in safe ways. “One provider might have 166 different programs to study abroad with in 26 different countries.”, says Dr. O’Brien. These providers may plan to start programs again by the beginning of summer in 2021, although others might not. 

According to Dr. O’Brien there are several factors that are put into play with both school- and provider-based Study Abroad programs. The benchmarks that are being made by universities are going to rely on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC ), the State Department, and even airlines. Dr. O’Brien explains that up until recently, “If a faculty wanted to go to a country where the State Department said, ‘No, Americans can’t go,’ then we’re not gonna go to that country.” Now, the big obstacle is the airlines. Airlines have become essential all over the world in the past 117 years, but thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak, “Some airlines have been forced to restructure or cease operations across the globe.” [credit: https://www.airlines.org/dataset/impact-of-covid19-data-updates/#]. 

COVID-19 has had a major impact on the world and us all, but pandemics are temporary. There was the Spanish flu of 1918 that lasted only two years. Since then we have exponentially grown in the medical field in both technology and research and with cooperation and patience we will be able to get through this and live our “new norm.” Dr. O’Brien echoed a quote from Robin Helms, the Deputy Chief Innovation Officer and Principle Internationalization Strategist for the American Council on Education: “The Coronavirus, ironically enough, illustrates exactly why we need internationalization. We need students who understand global phenomena, to see xenophobic and culture bound reactions for what they are, and are prepared to work with colleagues around the world to address global crises in the short term and contribute to long term solutions through research and the advancement of knowledge.” 

At the moment, Study Abroad is staying home, but with time the Eagles will be soaring over foriegn lands where we can explore and change the world once again.

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