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Student Kacper Kisala found a way to study abroad despite COVID-19 struggles

By Collin Atwood

Desperate to see his family and to study overseas, Kacper Kisala would not take no for an answer when Springfield College’s International Center declined his initial study abroad application in the fall of 2020. The senior studying to be a Physician Assistant jumped through hoops and faced tedious tasks in order for him to travel in a COVID-ridden world.

“It was really, truly, a miracle that he was able to go abroad,” said Heather St. Germaine, Associate Director of International Student Services at Springfield College.

Kisala is the only student from Springfield College to study abroad since the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020. Kisala’s dedication and motivation, along with a dash of luck, pushed him through the necessary steps that landed him in Prague, Czechia for the 2021 fall semester.

“The application process kind of dragged on for over a year because of COVID,” Kisala said. “It was brutal.”

One of the main obstacles for Kisala were travel advisories. A country’s travel advisory determines how safe it is for someone to visit that destination and is measured on a scale from one to four. The higher the number, the more dangerous it is to visit that country.

Springfield College only allows students to travel to countries with a level two or lower travel advisory. This fact alone prevented every student from going abroad this past fall.

Everyone except Kisala.

“We had about six students in that set up for fall 2021, and then the Delta variant hit in the summer. We were seeing infection rates rise around the world and travel advisories rise correspondly,” St. Germaine said. “Somehow, some light was shining over Kacper and the Czech Republic.”

Kisala was lucky, because today, Czech Republic has a level four travel advisory. According to the U.S. Department of State, level four means “do not travel.”

A large component that made this trip possible for Kisala was the fact that he was awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. This is a scholarship that assists students with financial needs to study or intern abroad. About 25% of applicants get accepted to be a recipient.

This scholarship made its way to Springfield in 2020 after St. Germaine arrived on Alden Street in 2019. She was the Gilman Scholarship advisor at her previous job and knows how helpful it can be.

“When I realized that that program wasn’t started [at Springfield], that was one of the first things I wanted to launch because it is such a phenomenal resource for students,” Germaine said.

Kisala is the first Gilman Scholarship Awardee at Springfield College and it is one of the things that kept him from turning back on his endeavor.

“I was on the verge of just completely giving up and then I found this scholarship,” Kisala said.

This year and half journey for Kisala was torturous. All he wanted was to see a new part of the world and more importantly, visit his family.

That’s what crushed Kisala when his initial plan to go overseas in spring 2021 was canceled. “It sucked a lot because for me, abroad was just a different thing because I have all my family there too,” Kisala said.

Kisala was born in the United States, but moved to Poland weeks after being born so he and his parents could be with the rest of their family. After three years of living in Poland they moved back to America permanently.

From Charles University, the college Kisala studied at in Prague, to where his family was in Poland was just an 11 hour bus ride which is much shorter than the 4,000 mile flight he took over the Atlantic Ocean.

His flight left from Newark, N.J. and made a stop at Lisbon, Portugal for three hours before finally leaving for Prague. After about ten hours spent in the air, Kisala landed in Czechia and everything he had to do to get there had been worth it.

“Getting there and finally landing there was like, ‘Holy shit, I’m here,’” Kisala said. “It was surreal and Prague was just beautiful too.”

Kisala described Charles University as similar to Boston University. “Charles University is huge…there’s not like that campus vibe,” Kisala said. He mentions that there aren’t any ice rinks in front of dorms, but the amount of castles made up for it.

During his time in Prague, Kisala did a lot of traveling to other countries in Europe. He visited Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Scotland and Switzerland.

He also visited Bari, Italy which was his most memorable of all. Kisala didn’t choose this city for any other reason other than the fact that it was a cheap flight. He spontaneously booked his flight to Bari a day before he left.

He was there for two days and stayed in a hostel that was less than satisfactory. “Honestly, I was in this hostel that was just completely old, it was bad,” he said. “There were just so many mosquitoes that I couldn’t even sleep there the whole night.”

What else can you expect for the price of $10 a night.

Despite the somewhat negative experience, Kisala never let the smile dwindle from his face. “It’s the small things that make a trip, like a cheap hostel or something that makes a cool story,” he said.

No matter what country Kisala was in, his main hobby involved walking and taking photos. He enjoyed seeing new things no matter how simple or small they were.

Kisala had time for all of this travel inside Europe because of his light school schedule. He only had classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. He took 12 credits at Charles University and three at Springfield College.

Thanks to the uprising of learning via Zoom, Kisala and the PA program at Springfield were able to work out a schedule where Kisala would take his seminar class on zoom every Wednesday night at 9 p.m. This was necessary because this class was only offered in the fall.

“It was at 9 p.m. because of the time shift which is kind of funny because everyone was in class and I was just on the full screen.”

Before Kisala made his way back to Springfield to attend in-person classes, he was able to visit his family in Poland for three weeks. “I went for Christmas, which was great because I actually never have been in Poland for Christmas.”

Although Kisala had to wait longer than expected and had to face some unforeseen difficulties, he was able to make the best of his time in Prague.

It may be hard, but it is possible for others to travel abroad too. The International Center is accepting applications as they continue to monitor the travel advisories for other countries.

“The challenge is just making sure that we are able to look out for the health and safety of students, but also at some point resume their ability to engage on a global level,” St. Germaine said.

Photo Courtesy Kacper Kisala

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