Boris Tsang/Sun File Photo

An empty Ithaca Tompkins International Airport on March 23, 2020; over a year later, students are finally able to study abroad.

September 29, 2021

Cornell Students Embark on Study Abroad Programs for First Time Since Spring 2020

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As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe in spring 2020, Cornell students studying abroad scrambled to book flights home under mounting travel restrictions and as the University’s programs came to a halt

A year and a half later, Cornellians are once again immersing themselves on campuses around the world — though not without the continued ramifications of the pandemic.

While students and administrators said they’re grateful for the opportunity to return to international experiences, some said the pandemic has made preparing for study abroad difficult, from navigating travel restrictions to considering safety concerns.

Some students said they’ve noticed that some programs open before the pandemic have been canceled or made unavailable to Cornell students.  

Devon Davis ’22, who is currently abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, saw this shift happen in real time. Davis had planned to study abroad last semester in Germany, but when it came time to reselect an international opportunity for this fall after last semester’s cancellation, Cornell no longer offered the trip to Germany.

The pandemic has also shifted some students’ options as they weigh which countries will feel safest to travel to come spring. 

Kyra Kozin ’23, who is planning to study in Copenhagen in spring 2022, said the country’s response to the pandemic has been “a huge part of [her] considerations of where to go.” 

“A reason that I chose Copenhagen, specifically, is because Denmark is doing really well with COVID right now,” Kozin said.

So far, Davis’ experiences have confirmed this: “We have no restrictions at all. COVID feels like a thing of the past here,” she said.  

According to Davis, masks are no longer required across the city and her classes are in person. She can travel between European countries — Davis went to Edinburgh this past weekend and plans on visiting Switzerland in two weeks.

While Adin Burwell ’23 has not been able to travel internationally since her arrival in Ireland for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Exchange at University College Dublin, her experiences have been largely positive. 

Even while wearing a mask around the city, she has been able to interact with the culture of the area, remarking that she has picked up Irish slang and interacted with locals.

Burwell and Davis alike remark that after being “cooped up” for a year, as Davis put it, traveling globally feels all the more valuable.

According to Brandon Lanners, executive director of Cornell’s Office of Global Learning, students across the University have shared this sentiment. 

“Our advisors have met with hundreds of students over the summer and up to now, and students are excited at the prospect of studying abroad,” Lanners wrote to The Sun. “We are confident in the resurgence of interest in study abroad as we work closely in consultation with the International Travel Health and Safety team and with the support of Cornell leadership.”

Lanners said that much of the value of an international experience comes from navigating the challenges of studying far beyond the Ithaca campus. He added that COVID’s obstacles will provide additional opportunities for growth to this year’s study abroad students. 

“The travel experience in fall 2021 or spring 2022 may be different than the experience a student had in fall 2019 — or the one in spring 2023 — but we believe the experience and its unique challenges can and will be invaluable,” he said. 

Still, as COVID regulations remain in flux across the world, the status of study abroad programs also remain uncertain — according to the Education Abroad website, “programs are subject to cancellation at any time due to changes in health and safety circumstances.”  

The Education Abroad department of the Office of Global Learning will make a final decision about the feasibility of spring semester study abroad programs during late October.  

This uncertainty could create obstacles for students like Kozin, who has been “making arrangements not to be in Ithaca” — she has already arranged to sublet her apartment.  

Until the University officially decides the fate of the spring 2022 study abroad programs, prospective students like Kozin remain hopeful for international experiences after a full academic year without them.

“Even though it’ll be a little different, it’s so nice to have the option to go,” she said.