Harvard Students Welcome Return to Study Abroad | News
While planning for her fall semester abroad, Donia A. Elmansy ’23 said she felt “in limbo” as she struggled to navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“It was all very uncertain,” she said. “The Office of International Education wasn’t really sure they could go all the way.”
Elmansy’s planning eventually paid off and she was able to spend the fall in Denmark.
After nearly two years defined by travel restrictions, case increases and canceled plans, Harvard’s study abroad programs are back. With an ongoing sense of normalcy, College students reflected on their recent study abroad experiences and looked to the future with optimism.
Eight students studied abroad in the fall 2021 term, according to OIE director Camila Nardozzi. Study abroad opportunities had been suspended since fall 2020 due to travel restrictions.
For the duration of the 2020-2021 academic year, the OIE Study Away program was the only study abroad opportunity and was limited to international students. The program allowed international students to enroll in local universities instead of attending Harvard’s online classes.
“This opportunity has allowed students to take classes in their local time zone, rather than having to take classes at all times of the day and night, depending on their location and the class schedule here at Cambridge,” Nardozzi wrote in an emailed statement.
Throughout Elmansy’s stay in Denmark, Covid-19 restrictions were lax with free rapid tests available at test centres, but the advent of the Omicron variant has posed challenges.
“When Omicron arrived, things got a little more chaotic because we students were interacting with each other,” Elmansy said.
Vladyslav “Vlad” Ivanchuk ’23 is currently studying abroad in Denmark, although restrictions have eased again since Omicron’s initial ramp-up.
“Denmark has no Covid restrictions,” Ivanchuk said. “Masks are no longer a thing.”
Ivanchuk said travel was “deeply integrated” into his studies, providing him with both academic and practical knowledge.
“This program is a nice break from [the] very stressful, high-pressure environment that Harvard is at times,” Ivanchuk said. “So far it’s been much more relaxing and takes less time to complete classes.”
“It gave me lots of opportunities to explore the city, meet people from all over the country – both Americans and local students in Denmark – and broaden my horizons,” he added. .
B. Ashton Alexander ’23 said the pandemic “opened the door” to the possibility of studying abroad in Florence, Italy.
“When the pandemic hit, and when I finally decided to take a year off, [studying abroad] was part of the motivation,” Alexander said. “Now I [had] another full year – two more semesters where it may become a possibility again.
“I would be lying if I said I wish I was on campus right now,” Alexander added. “Being able to study abroad, and just sort of the opportunities I’m exposed to here – wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Elmansy, who is back on campus for the spring semester, said her study abroad experience was “overwhelmingly positive.”
“I learned so much and got to see so much in the world in such a short time,” she said. “[At] at no other time in your life will you be able to give yourself four months to go see people from all over the world and live in a new environment.
This semester, about half the normal number of students are studying abroad, according to Nardozzi. The OIE expects study abroad opportunities to return to pre-pandemic levels this summer and fall.
Selam Ambaw ’25, who plans to study abroad in Spain or Argentina this summer, said the pandemic has helped her achieve her priorities. Ambaw hopes to immerse itself in the Spanish language abroad.
“[The pandemic] gave me the certainty that I wanted to try to take advantage of every opportunity to travel safely,” said Ambaw. “Learning the culture and the language, being able to experience and learn more organically different things than what you might do on the Harvard campus is really cool stuff.”
—Writer Omar Abdel Haq can be contacted at [email protected]
—Editor Ashley R. Masci can be reached at [email protected]