With the global surge of COVID-19 cases over the past few months, both Tufts and non-Tufts study abroad programs have had to make adjustments to the structure of their programs. Individual students also had to reevaluate their study abroad plans for the spring semester.
Tufts is currently running spring semester programs in Madrid, Paris, London, Tübingen and Santiago, among other cities. Tufts Global Education made the decision to suspend Tufts programs in Hong Kong, Beijing and Japan due to local government restrictions on international guests, visa concerns, and extensive quarantine protocols.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Tufts Global Education has been eager to allow students to return to education abroad. Mala Ghosh, associate dean and senior director of Tufts Global Education, spoke about the preparations that Tufts Global Education has been doing to ensure the study abroad programs operate as planned.
“Our international team has been preparing for hosting students during the pandemic since it began during the winter of 2020,” Ghosh wrote in an email to the Daily. “We have been in constant communication with one another, our partners abroad, stakeholders across Tufts University, and at the same time, closely monitoring local government and health official advisories on a daily basis since January 2020.”
Jeanne Fourneyron, director of Tufts-in-Paris, said there has been no shortage of student enrollment in the program.
“Student enrollment in Paris is back to pre-covid numbers which shows the strong demand for study abroad,” Fourneyron wrote in an email to the Daily.
Loreto Pomar, director of Tufts-in-Chile, is also optimistic about the spring semester for students participating in the Tufts-in-Chile program.
“Even though we face uncertain times with an ongoing pandemic, we will confront new challenges and achieve our goals for the semester with amazing experiences,”Pomar wrote in an email to the Daily.
Dr. Meredith Hyde, director of Tufts-in-London and Tufts-in-Oxford, said that few students dropped out of the program last minute due to COVID-19 concerns.
“We told students from the outset that only they would know how well they managed uncertainty, and that because of the times we live in and the constraints they impose study abroad wouldn’t be for everyone, and we very much respect that,” Hyde wrote in an email to the Daily. “We were surprised how few withdrew over the holidays.”
Melanie Armstrong, associate director of programs and outreach, added that there was not an outstanding number of withdrawals from study abroad programs.
“As is typical in any semester (even pre-COVID), we saw a few withdrawals from Tufts Programs Abroad in the months leading up to the start of programs, but really only a handful in the immediate weeks prior,” Armstrong wrote in an email to the Daily.
While the directors of the university’s study abroad programs made it clear that the experience would be different than what it was in semesters prior to COVID-19, students still felt nervous about how the programs would operate. Annika Solomone, who is studying abroad through Tufts-in-Paris, said that she felt a lot of uncertainty in the days prior to her departure.
“The most stressful part of the months leading up to my flight was definitely the uncertainty; they told us we wouldn’t know for sure whether or not the program would get cancelled until the day of our flights, so I couldn’t help but feel anxious while packing up my entire off-campus room,” Solomone, a junior wrote in an email to the Daily.
Solomone said she believes that students dropped out of the study abroad programs that did not look as if they would operate smoothly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think people dropped out of programs that didn't look as hopeful as [Tufts-in-Paris]; I know there's a program in England that has fully online classes, which makes going at all less worth it for many,” Solomone wrote.
While not much has changed for the Tufts-in-Paris program, as classes and excursions remain in person, the living options for students have changed. Students now have the option to stay in a dorm as opposed to living with a host family.
“[Tufts-in-Paris] gave us the unique option to stay in a student dorm this year,” Solomone wrote. “Usually, students must stay with a host family, but with COVID concerns, the program directors wanted us to have a safer option."
Eda Devletsah, another student enrolled in the Tufts-in-Paris program, said she still had a lot of questions about how the program would handle positive cases before she left for France.
“Prior to the start of the program … the program directors emailed us about updated COVID restrictions in France,” Devletsah, a junior, wrote in an email to the Daily. “This email largely explained the current government restrictions regarding the Omicron variant in France. It did not highlight any program or Tufts-specific policies and I found myself having a lot of questions regarding quarantining and self-isolation if a positive COVID test were to occur within the program.”
Devletsah said that she eventually made the decision to attend the program because members of her family live in Europe.
“I had the comfort of knowing that if I were in a dire situation where my health was at risk, my parents would be close enough to intervene," Devletsah wrote. "I did not feel very secured by the program’s comments on the pandemic, so I relied on my external privileges when deciding to attend the program."
Ghosh told the Daily that while this semester abroad may look different, the directors of the study abroad programs are constantly working to ensure the safety and security of students overseas.
“Our Directors abroad have worked through all the breaks and holidays to support students while they isolate and provide meals, support, and healthcare options,” Ghosh wrote. "Our external partners are also providing amazing care with isolation hotel rooms, providing food, and ensuring academic continuity.”