With the rise of the Omicron variant and the ongoing uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fate of spring 2022 study away remains uncertain.
According to Director of Study Away Kevin Morrison, it is still too soon to know what the impact of the Omicron variant will be. Right now, the Center for Study Away is telling spring 2022 students to continue with their plans unless something changes drastically.
“I feel really confident that our students are at no greater risk than if they were to be in St. Paul,” Morrison said.
In the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, the office canceled all study abroad programs for Macalester because of the risks associated with COVID. This semester, it was up to the discretion of the student and their program. For the spring 2022 semester, Morrison said the office will continue to take students’ study abroad on a case-by-case basis.
There are some programs and students that have canceled their spring study abroad. According to Morrison, nine spring 2022 programs have either canceled or gone out of business. The office knew some of these programs would not be running a year ago, while others canceled more recently.
“Ideally, when a program is canceled it happened at an appropriate time where we’ve been able to move students into other programs,” Morrison said. “That’s the first thing we always offer … We hit a certain point where that becomes impractical.”
While Morrison said it is too early to tell the full consequences of the Omicron variant, it is clear that it is impacting international travel and border restrictions. Some countries continue to be closed to American travelers as the pandemic persists, while others have opened and closed again as cases rise and fall.
“There’s rumors that Australia is going to open up but that was right before the Omicron variant hit prevalence,” Morrison said. “Japan reclosed — they were in the process of hopefully reopening for the spring, and then they closed again. So there’s a lot of that going on too.”
Morrison emphasized that while he is not a public health expert, he is still hopeful that countries’ initial reaction to the Omicron variant will die down.
“I’m hoping that that initial reaction, folks will realize was an overreaction on behalf of several countries, but that we’re going to see these countries that closed to protect themselves — the Omicron variant is already there — so hopefully once they realize that they’ll back off,” Morrison said.
Sar Velick ’23 was supposed to study abroad in Taiwan next semester but ultimately decided not to go. Between the costs of the program, the country’s COVID-19 policies and obtaining a visa, it was more effort than it was worth.
“Taiwan is very strict with quarantine and visas — which is fantastic,” Velick said. “But, you have to quarantine for 22 days, and I couldn’t get a visa until the day before classes started so I would have had to quarantine for 22 days and miss the first three weeks of classes.”
The quarantine hotel itself would have cost $2,000 or $3,000 dollars, and, as a result of COVID-19 policies, Velick would have needed to purchase a more expensive refundable plane ticket.
Velick was also worried about the status of their program, and they would need to scramble for housing, a job and classes at Macalester next semester.
“At a certain point, I was just like, ‘is this worth it for a program that might get canceled anyways?’ And so I just decided to cancel it,” Velick said.
Even with ongoing cancellations and COVID-19 unpredictability, Morrison is optimistic for the future of study away at Macalester. Working closely with Career Exploration, the two offices are promoting the ways that students can go abroad after they graduate from Macalester, which Morrison thinks is becoming a more popular option among students who missed their abroad experiences due to COVID-19.
For Morrison, the hardest part has been disappointing students over the past two years, but he is hopeful for the future.
“I feel like the people who work in study abroad across the country and around the world are really ready for it; we also can tell that the students are hungry for it. We want to do what we can to make these opportunities available in ways that are as safe and sound as they can be.”