October 16, 2020
Students arrive in London, Fall 2020Hannah Leidich, Assistant Director of Health, Safety, and Security

Study Abroad is what we do. We never even had to ask ourselves, “Do we want to support study abroad during a pandemic?” We all knew the answer was yes. However, everything after that requires careful examination, discussion, and frequent review. Before Arcadia Abroad could get down to the “how” - to the mitigation, the response, the ducks all in a row -  we had other important questions to ask ourselves first: “Can we?” and “Should we?” 

“Can We?”

We’ve identified the following factors as important aspects impacting both Arcadia Abroad and individual student basis. These include: 

  • The ability for free movement and reliable flights in and out of the host country
  • Rate of community transmission of COVID-19 and testing in the location
  • Local governmental restrictions and implications for student experience in-country
  • Availability of routine and emergency healthcare services
  • Government advisories and advice from our security assistance company, International SOS

These criteria were identified in spring 2020 to use as a basis for future decision-making. As shared in our program updates, some programs become infeasible due to corollary aspects of the pandemic, such as border restrictions and limited commercial flights. At its core, “Can we?” is really, “Can we do so responsibly.” As much as our goal is to see robust programs in all of our locations, we need to make difficult decisions to curate a list of program offerings where we feel confident that health, safety, academic, and interpersonal needs can all be met. In our assessments, we consider country advisories and risk ratings from the U.S. Department of State, Centers for Disease Control, and International SOS, as well as a multitude of other factors to fully assess the risks in a particular location and to implement approaches to mitigate them. Additionally, having our staff as boots-on-the-ground, as it were, helps us gain a clearer picture of daily life beyond the data. 

What does Covid-19 testing look like in the countries in which we operate? How can we avoid contributing to over-burdened medical systems abroad? Are there museums and cultural sites accessible to students or will student activities be limited between only classes and their room? The “Can We” question requires a lot of discussion to paint a full picture of the student experience as well as to understand our capabilities, and limitations, in supportive actions.   

Beyond the country-level assessment, we also put significant focus on each of our program partners in reviewing housing facilities, teaching modes, location, and transportation to ultimately determine what the student experience will look like.

Arcadia Abroad depended on the strength of our partnerships with our host institutions to: 

  • Verify all programs have a documented academic contingency/distance learning plan and guaranteed completion of academic credit
  • Ensure our students can be housed in single bedrooms
  • Confirm the partner’s plans for supporting a student needing to self isolate
  • Plan that arrival quarantine can be completed in their regular housing, if applicable

“Should We?”

We also take the ethical considerations of study abroad during a pandemic very seriously. What are the risks for students and their families? How will our students impact their host community? What if someone in Arcadia’s community contracts Covid-19? 

Even with the reality of Covid-19, the world continues to move forward, albeit at a somewhat slower pace. The same is true for study abroad. The opportunity for a transformative experience for students still exists - It just needs to be approached thoughtfully and carefully. Students can still learn in new and challenging environments. They can still learn to adapt and grow as individuals while contributing meaningfully to their host communities.

The success of study abroad has always been dependent upon the students themselves.  We’ve implemented “High Risk Travel Advising” calls with each individual student, designed to create a focused space to address individual questions and to ensure students are making an informed decision to participate. It’s important that they understand what is expected of them as well as what is available to them. It also helps us get to know our students by face and name before they set foot on a plane. Our success in supporting a student’s well-being relies on our relationship with them, and these calls set the foundation for that relationship. 

Final Decision Making

For Fall 2020 we found that we could, in the case of England and Scotland, move forward with our own program in London as well as with a number of our partners. Once we felt we could, we knew we should. Our students in England and Scotland for Fall 2020 are exceptional, intrepid travelers. The flexibility, maturity, and determination they demonstrated have served as a constant reminder of why we do what we do.

Our review and assessment will continue to be refined as we learn more and as advances in science pave the way for increased international mobility. 

All to say, if you’re wondering if you can study abroad… YES, you can!