By Patrick Fergus
For many students, the ability to study abroad is a treasured part of their college experience, and with the return to normalcy after a two-year long pandemic, the choice to travel the world for further educational opportunities has returned to Springfield College.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the entire world was shut down. Most countries had strict travel restrictions that closely monitored the people coming in and out, with some not allowing anyone in at all.
This had a substantial impact on the study abroad programs of colleges and universities that hoped to send students to all corners of the globe.
Studying abroad has been described by many former students as a life changing experience, crediting the program for expanding their understanding of themselves, different cultures, and the building of confidence and problem solving skills.
Here on Alden Street, the persisting effects of the pandemic were notably felt in the study abroad department in the Doggett International Center.
“Due to heightened travel advisories and COVID related travel restrictions, study abroad at Springfield was virtually suspended from fall 2020 until summer 2022,” said Heather St. Germaine, the Associate Director of International Student Services.
As many students, teachers, and businesses did during the pandemic, the study abroad program was forced to turn digital, with a single Springfield student taking part in a modified virtual experience in the spring of 2021.
In the height of isolation and social distancing, many students and teachers feared that life would never return to normal
However, the school and the program were able to persist through the uncertainty of the past couple of years, and now with travel restrictions waning, are confident that all study abroad programs will be back and better than ever.
Even without the difficulties of constantly altering travel advisories, the program is still faced with the continuing challenge of visa and passport processing.
As a result of ceasing operations around the world, many embassies and consulate offices have been struggling with the burdensome effort of processing the pileup of visa applications, without the proper staff to deal with them.
“At one point, it was taking up to 18-20 weeks to have a U.S. passport application processed but now the US Department of State is taking about 7-10 weeks,” St. Germaine said.
This was especially true in some of the most popular destinations like Spain and Italy, which saw very strict lockdown restrictions, with the study abroad office recommending that students begin their visa application process as soon as they can.
As conditions began to improve and the process as a whole became a lot easier, Springfield was delighted to send a small number of students abroad this past summer and this fall, as well as over 30 applications received for the 2023 spring semester.
Luckily enough for Springfield students, the restored program offers more than 20 countries to call home for a semester. This impressive list includes the UK, Spain, Argentina, Italy, Japan, and many more, with the additions of places like Greece and France expected as soon as 2024.
Not only can studying abroad be the same cost as a semester at Springfield College and be used as the required themed exploration, but some students can even receive scholarships to assist their foreign journeys.
St. Germaine urges prospective students to take advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“We live in an interconnected world that requires cultural understanding and global competencies,” she said. “The best way to develop the skills, knowledge and awareness needed to be a global citizen is through studying abroad.”
The experience of immersing oneself in another culture and exploring new places is a valuable one, and thankfully, one that is once again offered at Springfield College.
Photo Courtesy of springfieldcollegestudyabroad/Instagram