Education Abroad Continues Despite Ongoing COVID-19 Surges


Since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic in March 2020, study abroad programs have been deemed unsafe or unattainable due to travel restrictions. However, as we enter the third year of the pandemic, Seattle University’s Education Abroad Office (EAO) has adapted its programming to fit with current times. 

In many regards, Seattle U’s study abroad regime has not changed due to COVID-19. The EAO still offers both sponsored and exchange programs, but has not been able to send a great deal of students abroad due to COVID-19 restrictions and university concerns of legal liability. 

Seattle U offers over 100 sponsored programs and eight exchange programs. Exchange programs partner with another university, allowing students to fully immerse themselves at an international university. Both of these program types allow for the transfer of Seattle U scholarships and federal aid. 

The EAO works with students to find an appropriate program that will fulfill their degree requirements. For some, an education abroad advisor will nominate students to the program and help individuals prepare for their time abroad. 

Gina Lopardo, director of the EAO, expressed that students still have opportunities to travel during their time at Seattle U. 

“[We] recognize the importance of education abroad for students’ academic, professional and personal growth and we look forward to a shift to a stable environment that will allow for worldwide mobility again,” Lopardo said. “Just as we have been learning what it looks like to educate and house students on campus again, we are learning what it looks like to educate students abroad during this pandemic.”

In order to ensure that students will have successful trips, the EAO follows a travel policy based on the U.S. Department of State travel advisories. Any locations at a “Level 4 Do Not Travel” are prohibited, and programs in locations with a “Level 3 Reconsider Travel” advisory may be petitioned with approval from the Seattle U International Risk Assessment Committee and the Provost in order for students to attend programs in those areas. 

“We had students ready to study abroad in winter quarter 2022 because the countries that would be hosting them were at a Level 3. Their petitions were approved and then the Travel Advisory Levels changed from a 3 to a 4 mid-December because of omicron and those students were no longer able to study abroad,” Lopardo said.

Second-year International Studies student Lux Laurent is currently planning to study abroad in spring 2023 through an exchange program with a host university in Japan. As Japan is currently at Level 3, a petition would allow students, like Laurent, to move forward with their plans. 

Laurent has some concerns about the current status of COVID-19 in Japan. 

“Since it’s late-ish spring 2023, [COVID-19] is hopefully going to be a little bit better. In Japan currently, they are doing a quarantine of ten days, so hypothetically, I would just have to live with the ten-day quarantine and then be able to study abroad, but I don’t know how open they are to exchange students currently, which is a big concern of mine,” Laurent said.

Prior to the pandemic, International Studies and Modern Language students had a study abroad requirement for their majors. Due to COVID-19, these departments have changed their degree requirements. International Studies no longer requires that their students study abroad. 

Felipe Murtinho, director of International Studies, elaborated on the decision to waive the 15-credit requirement. 

“COVID-19 came, and of course, we waived that requirement. Some students are still going abroad, but it has been very difficult … Even though now it’s possible to go abroad, we will still waive that requirement. For many students—or their parents—they don’t feel safe. Now what we are doing is we’re encouraging students, since they cannot go abroad, to do an internship in our internship program with an international organization here in Seattle,” Murtinho said. 

While completing an internship is not required for international studies students, Murtinho hopes that students will take advantage of organizations around the area, especially if they choose to not go abroad. 

Murtinho also recognizes that many students like Laurent find passion in traveling while simultaneously being able to pursue an education abroad. 

“You have to understand that for most of our students, they want to study in our program because of the study abroad component. That’s what’s so cool and interesting, but not anymore—it’s very sad,” Murtinho said. 

While not all students will be able to fulfill the previous study abroad requirement due to health concerns or travel restrictions, the EAO is working to resume standard operations as the pandemic subsides.