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Study Abroad in a Changing World

By Center for International Programs

“Go for it even if you're not completely sold on the idea...because it will be an incredible experience.” Joel Howe, International Studies major, reflects on his study abroad experience in Madrid, Spain, in the early months of the Covid-19 epidemic in 2020: “It was both stressful and a little traumatizing because I didn't know the seriousness of the virus and whether I would be able to return safely.” 

Joel was one of the thousands of US students whose study abroad program was cut short in early in 2020. He had only just begun to learn about his host country, to make friends, and to experience the vibrant Spanish culture through the Comillas exchange program in Madrid. “I specifically chose Madrid because I wanted to continue learning and practicing Spanish. I have been to Central and South America, but never Europe, and saw Spain as the perfect opportunity to travel throughout Europe.” 

Safely bringing students home became the top priority of the UD Education Abroad office in the early months of the pandemic, and Joel had all the support he needed for a quick and safe trip back home. “Obviously returning home early was a major disappointment,” he says, “I was extremely sad to hear the news to immediately return to the US, like most UD students abroad.” 

While the interruption was unwelcome, Joel still enthusiastically recommends study abroad for any student who wants to expand their horizons. In his case, it was a requirement as part of his coursework in International Studies, but he talks up study abroad with other students, and even joined the Inclusion and Diversity in Education Abroad (IDEA) committee at UD upon his return, to support diverse students in their study abroad goals. “I would say talk it over with your advisor, parents, and friends,” he says, “If there is an obstacle in the way, seek help to ensure you can have this opportunity.”

One important consideration for Joel (like many students) was meeting the financial burden of study abroad. UD’s Education Abroad Office offers a wide variety of programs, including budget-friendly options, and works with students to find ways to support these important student experiences.  Many times it is support from friends, family, and alumni that make all the difference. In Joel’s case, it became obvious to him that financial concerns could significantly impact the ability of more students to study overseas. “I know there are many challenges that prevent someone from going abroad, so by eliminating these barriers hopefully more students can have this experience,” he says. 

Joel hopes one day to travel more broadly, and even live and work abroad someday. His experience, though short, changed his life in ways he’s still processing. “I love learning from others...and feel study abroad is the perfect opportunity to learn from people in another culture and country.”

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