On-board With Abroad: Three Students Reflect on Their Unique Study Abroad Experiences During an Age of COVID

Masks—check. Vaccine card—check. Test result—check. 

The packing list may look different these days, but despite two years of travel restrictions and complications, Gordon’s Global Education Office has been committed to safely sending students out into the world for study abroad semesters. As we approach the March 1 application deadline for fall 2022 programs, three seasoned study abroad veterans share their recent experiences overseas. 

Flexibility—check. Friends—check. Fun—check.

Sophia Rowe ’23 

Balkans Semester for the Study of War and Peace | Zagreb, Croatia (spring 2021)
International affairs and political science major; peace and conflict studies minor
From Sacramento, CA

Sophia Rowe in Croatia

“Surprisingly, COVID did not pose much of a challenge in getting to Croatia,” says Sophia Rowe, though a complication with testing did make for a challenging trip home. “I had all my documents explaining why I was traveling, multiple negative COVID tests and many sturdy masks. At that time, Croatian border control was strict to tourists but welcoming to students. So, other than one member of my cohort suddenly having a canceled flight, our small group of six students entered the country without many issues.”

The Balkans program typically involves travel to neighboring countries, but with tightened borders during COVID, the cohort remained in Croatia and only traveled locally. A colorful apartment in downtown Zagreb was their home base. “This is where we spent most of our time studying, visiting cafés or walking through parks and museums,” remembers Rowe. “In particular, a friend and I always adored visiting the cat cafe after classes.” Excursions included the island of Vis and the charming town of Slunj. “This small village was surrounded by strikingly blue waterfalls and lush forests; it is likely the most beautiful place I will ever see in my lifetime,” she says.

“I can’t write enough to encapsulate all the unforgettable memories that I gained from studying in Croatia,” says Rowe. “Although my time studying abroad was limited by the pandemic, it was honestly the best experience of my college life, so I definitely recommend students to consider their global options.”

Kaitlyn Hulstein ’22 

LCC International University | Klaipėda, Lithuania (fall 2021)
Business administration major
From Orange City, IA

Kaitlyn Hulstein in Lithuania

Armed with masks and a QR code showing she had sufficient immunity, Kaitlyn Hulstein says COVID didn’t disrupt much of her daily life while abroad in Lithuania. It did, however, alter some additional travel plans. “Staying flexible was a crucial part of navigating the challenges that came with travel restrictions during COVID,” she says. “For example, part of the study-abroad program through LCC is a trip to Russia; however, due to Russia’s restrictions, we couldn’t go and instead went to Ukraine. In Ukraine, many places we planned to visit were unexpectedly closed, and navigating that and reworking our daily schedules required a lot of flexibility.” Hulstein also had to sort through airline and country entry requirements for independent trips she took to various European countries. “Thankfully, the study abroad program leaders at LCC are fantastic and worked hard to get all the study abroad students EU digital COVID passports, which proved our immunity and allowed us to travel with very few issues,” she says.

As Hulstein thinks back to floating in the Baltic Sea at sunset and braving below-freezing temperatures to shop at the Christmas markets in Vilnius, she says she’s glad that COVID shrunk the size of a typical study abroad cohort. In a program that can have up to 50 students per semester, studying with only a dozen made for a much more personalized experience. “I know everyone in my cohort very well and spent a lot of time with each of them, both individually and in groups,” she says, “which is an experience larger cohorts may not normally have.”

Ryann Soltero ’22 

CIEE International Business and Culture program | Seville, Spain (spring 2021)
CIEE Arts and Sciences program | Seoul, South Korea (fall 2021)

International studies and diplomacy major (Pike Honors)
From Granby, CT

Ryann Soltero

Ryann Soltero experienced both ends of the COVID spectrum during her two study abroad experiences. At the time of her first program, Spain had restricted travel between provinces and implemented a curfew. So, international travel was out of the question and big countrywide holiday celebrations were canceled. “Going to Spain, the most unnerving thing about my trip was the uncertainties still associated with COVID at the time; there wasn’t even a vaccine to receive at that point!” she says. “As such, I remember praying for guidance, searching YouTube for more information on where I would be staying and relying on my program coordinators to provide further guidance on the specific restrictions.” Just a few months later, in South Korea, Soltero says restrictions felt minimal—after an intense two-week quarantine upon arrival. The vaccine was available at that point, and she found the COVID-related regulations and responsibilities to be straightforward and predictable.

While the experiences were very different, in both cases, Soltero says, “What I started to realize very early on is that sharing the experience of COVID served as a unifying trait. While our respective countries were certainly managing the pandemic in distinctly different ways, we could still share in all of the emotions that accompany living through a pandemic. While I was unable to enjoy late-night dinners on bustling little side streets with the hum of Spanish drifting through the night breeze, I was able to partake in late-night dinners in a tiny apartment with new friends as we shared our stories, asked questions and learned about life outside of our shared three- by seven-foot kitchen.”