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Travel is starting to resume around the world following the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Penn State lifted its restriction on university-affiliated international travel — just in time for students to make preparations for this spring’s study abroad programs.

However, a new coronavirus threat now looms once again — the delta variant.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the delta variant is more than two times as contagious than other variants of the coronavirus.

Kate Manni, the director of the Education Abroad Office at Global Penn State, said the upcoming spring semester trips will feature tightened restrictions for travel — most countries require proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test for entry.

Manni said a large number of students go to western Europe to visit countries such as Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, but these countries developed “very strict protocols with foreigners” during the pandemic.

“We’re working hard to set expectations that study abroad probably won’t look the way you’ve been dreaming about since high school,” Manni said. “It’s still going to be amazing, and [you] will learn a lot and make new friends, but there are going to be changes to everyday life to adapt to.”

Manni said Penn State’s policy requires students to be vaccinated before traveling, or provide a religious and medical exception, which goes through an approval process.

“The delta variant hasn’t changed [the university’s] perspective on how students can study abroad in the safest way possible.” Manni said. “The same things we’re asking students to do on campus is the same thing we’re expecting abroad.”

A big concern of the university, Manni said, is not only the number of coronavirus cases in these foreign countries but the healthcare capacity the country can handle — including hospitalization rates and even mental health needs of students abroad.

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Briana Casey, academic services manager in the Education Abroad Office at Global Penn State, said she recommends students hold off on booking flights until they hear from the university to go ahead. She also said students should schedule on-campus courses as a back-up — in case courses abroad were to be canceled.

According to Casey, if a program is canceled before departure, the Education Abroad Office “would not hold any student to a financial penalty,” but airfare would not be reimbursed.

There are usually 150 faculty-led programs per year, each with two faculty traveling, according to Manni. And, Casey said the university has some faculty-led programs slated for this spring. All employees traveling abroad using university funding also are required to be fully vaccinated before departing, according to a release.

There have been a few programs canceled for this coming spring, which are listed on the Education Abroad website.

“The mitigation of different risks was insurmountable… restrictions to get into these countries were really, really complicated, and at the time, younger people in the U.S. were not yet able to get the vaccine,” Manni said. “[We] feel really confident that we’re in a different place this year.”

Manni said although there is some “targeted outreach to parents,” including a webinar for families before the commitment date for spring, she said she believes “students must take some ownership over various processes of pre-departure… [we] empower them to be the ones asking questions.”

Students and parents who want to learn more in preparation for this spring’s study abroad programs can learn more at the Education Abroad Fair starting Oct. 12.

In regard to the risk of a trip being canceled, Casey said she believes the decision of whether a student should go abroad now is a “personal choice.”

“Students need to think about what they want to get out of it, not only personally but academically,” Casey said.

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Some students had international trips canceled this past summer and had to revert to virtual options, such as Yael Andrade, who is graduating in December and is a peer advisor for study abroad.

Andrade (senior-general science) said she studied abroad in Peru before the pandemic but completed two virtual internships this past summer, which were supposed to take place in Ecuador and Bolivia.

However, Manni said 24 students studied abroad this past summer on “traditional study abroad” in addition to “a handful” of students who completed virtual internships.

Andrade said the global and public health internships were through Child Family Health International, a global health education program.

“It obviously wasn’t in person, and that always sucks a little bit, but it was still a really good experience, and I still learned a lot,” Andrade said. “It just made me want to visit those countries in person in whatever capacity I can in the future.”

Andrade said she believes the programs did a “really great job” of making the experience as “immersive” as possible, and she said she thought the virtual experience was “worth it” and “brought out different perspectives” she wouldn’t have considered before.

Manni and Andrade were in agreement that Penn State faculty members are going above and beyond to give students “an incredible academic experience.”

“[We’re] grateful for the work that they do,” Manni said. “The whole reason they’re doing it is because they care so much about undergraduate international education.”

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