As the omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to impact the world, Mercer’s Office of International Programs has continued to take precautions against the new strain. These precautions have been the latest in an effort to stop the spread of the virus while allowing Mercer students the opportunity to continue traveling and learning about other cultures.
Mercer students were able to continue to study abroad in-person in the fall 2021 semester, and the Office of International Programs has continued its intent for the spring and summer as well.
Rebekah Anaya, the associate director of Mercer’s Study Abroad Program, advises students planning to study abroad and assures them of the measures being taken to stay safe during the pandemic.
“We carefully work to advise students on everything they need to know before they go abroad: application deadlines, passport info, COVID-19 restrictions, travel and safety tips,” Anaya said. “We do keep a careful eye on the countries that we send students to, including what their entry requirements are and health and safety updates from the U.S. Department of State.”
Anaya found it heartbreaking to have to cancel in-person programs during the pandemic, only running a few virtual programs between March 2020 and July 2021. With so many students remaining hopeful for the opportunity to study abroad, the study abroad team was excited to help students immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of other countries.
Anaya also advocated for students to plan out their study abroad programs early to take advantage of all the opportunities available to them.
“The biggest piece of advice: start planning early,” Anaya said. “Many scholarship applications close at least 6 months before you go abroad. If you can, meet with one of our study abroad advisors about a year in advance so that they can help you find the best fit for your academic and financial needs.”
Amy Pham, a senior majoring in global development, recently returned from her fall semester trip to Morocco. She said she enjoyed studying abroad and thought it was one of the best experiences of her life.
“Before last semester, I’d wanted to go abroad for years, but COVID put a halt to that,” Pham said. “I felt really lucky to even be in another country at the moment, and it felt like I was living my dream.”
Pham said that the COVID policies implemented on her trip were effective, but also found she often had to adapt to the changes during the pandemic.
“Morocco was actually implementing a lot of measures to keep COVID under control last semester,” Pham said. “It proved much more effective than any individual measures could have done. This was because the national policies for COVID were much more stringent.”
Pham thinks that while it might be harder for Americans to adapt to different cultures than people from other cultures, such as Europeans, it also might be a good idea to be open-minded about diverse cultures and viewpoints here at home in order to better take in new experiences when one goes abroad.
“It’s so fulfilling experiencing a different culture long-term, building relationships abroad and expanding one’s perspective, even though those can all be hard,” Pham stated. “Studying abroad also builds a wider cultural understanding that can be applied to all professions, so I’d recommend it regardless of any major one holds.”
All spring study abroad participants have had to have been tested before departure due to travel restrictions in other countries, even if fully vaccinated. Everyone will be required to test negative 24 hours before returning to the U.S. as well.
To learn more about studying abroad opportunities, visit the third floor of Ryals Hall or visit @MercerAbroad on Instagram to learn about some of the trips experienced by previous study abroad participants.