Have Pandemic, Will Travel

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Photo courtesy of Jada Shavers.

The COVID-19 pandemic halted DePauw University’s Winter Terms, semester study abroad programs, and May Terms in Spring 2020. Many students who were abroad during the onset of the pandemic were required to return back to the United States, cutting their experience short. 

For the Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 semesters, the Hubbard Center has been dedicated to preparing students for their study abroad programs. This semester, there are students studying abroad and COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions have affected each trip in a different way.

“I chose to come [to DePauw] because I wanted to be somewhere that is culturally diverse. I believe [studying abroad is one of the] best ways to learn since the students and professors come from different parts of the world,” senior Kimberly Bello-Rosas said.

Bello-Rosas is currently studying abroad in the Netherlands at the University of Amsterdam. She participates in the social sciences and humanities program under the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES) Abroad. Bello-Rosas’ biggest influence in picking her study abroad program is the cultural diversity of the Netherlands. 

Bello-Rosas also expressed how her psychology, criminal science, and global health classes have proven to be applicable in this international context. “I have taken global health at DePauw, but part of the reason I wanted to take it here is because I knew I would learn different material and see global health from a different lens,” she said. ”It’s been amazing to see how much I have learned within these couple of weeks.”

Along with Bello-Rosas, senior Jada Shavers is also studying abroad at the University of Amsterdam. Unlike Bello-Rosas, she chose to be in the IES Abroad’s law and criminology program. Her reason for picking the Netherlands is so that she can study comparative law practices between Europe and the United States.

Shavers said, “I thought it would be an enriching and complex country to study in because of its unique character that has been shaped by its diversity and culture.”

Senior Mahogany Brim is studying in Rome, Italy this semester. Interning at a Rome design agency and taking film and media studies classes, Brim said, “I chose Italy because I wanted to go to a city that was very welcoming, artsy, and especially cultured, and I felt like Italy had those things.”

 DePauw students abroad this semester seem to be proceeding with their study abroad plans and dealing with the curves in the road COVID-19 brings along the way.

Bello-Rosas expressed her surprise at how lenient COVID-19 restrictions were in the Netherlands. “I was shocked to walk out of the airport and see that everyone here was kind of walking around like we are not in a pandemic. Masks are only worn on public transport, yet cases here are so much lower than they are in the US so I feel safer here,” she said.

According to Bello-Rosas, clubs and concerts aren’t able to happen yet in the Netherlands and restaurants and bars close at midnight, but she does not think this has significantly impacted her study abroad experience.  

Although her social experience has not been impacted by COVID-19, Bello-Rosas expressed disappointment in educational limitations caused by the pandemic.

“One of the classes I was excited to take was the stress in health and disease psychology class, but since there are too many students enrolled, we aren’t allowed to meet in person. After almost a year and a half of Zoom classes, I mentally cannot do online classes anymore, so I am struggling with retaining information,” she said.

Shavers shared similar sentiments about her experience in Amsterdam, “I don’t feel like COVID-19 has had a huge impact on my experience so far, except for one time when I wasn’t allowed on the bus because I forgot my mask. The city isn’t completely open, but it is still very active, so I can only imagine how lively it was before the pandemic.”

In Italy, Brim expressed disappointment in the limited travel opportunities COVID-19 brings. “I think this semester is definitely unique because of COVID-19 and the basic example I can think of is the fact that we’re discouraged from traveling to other places outside of Italy because there’s a risk of us being trapped in these countries if there’s a major outbreak. This is very disheartening because everything is so close to where I am and I would like to go to other countries,” she said.

Every country has different ways of dealing with COVID-19 and the three students explained how their host countries are dealing with the pandemic and requirements of home residency.

According to Brim, Italy and America have similar precautions about the pandemic. “I think that it is not much different from our rules in America. In Italy, they’re asking people to show proof of a green pass, which is the document they receive when getting vaccinated [while] our equivalent is the white card.”

In the Netherlands, Shavers said, “My program has been taking COVID-19 seriously, making sure we have access to self-tests and we always wear masks while inside the IES Center. Also, a majority of the citizens in the Netherlands are fully vaccinated so the government has been loosening up on COVID-19 restrictions… If you are traveling to the Netherlands, you have to either show a negative COVID-19 test, proof of vaccination, or proof of recovery, otherwise, they won’t allow you to travel within the country.”

Bello-Rosas seconds Shavers views of pandemic guidelines in Amsterdam. “We all had to get resident permits and register at city hall. These are so important with COVID-19 because after these appointments, we will be able to get free COVID-19 tests whenever we want,” she said. “We will also be able to register for the Corona App that we need moving forward to get into theaters, concerts, restaurants, and more once limitations start to be lifted in the Netherlands.”

Despite the pandemic precautions, several students’ studying abroad report that their experiences have been quite rewarding and a time of excitement as the Fall semester continues.

Bello-Rosas said, “I am absolutely in love with Amsterdam! I was supposed to study abroad my Spring semester of my junior year, but it was cancelled due to COVID-19. I was scared I was not going to have the experience I had dreamt about for so long because I am graduating in the Spring. However, I am eternally grateful everything worked out, and I’m here now!”

Shavers expressed the same sentiments as Bello-Rosas about her study abroad experience when she said, “After my first weeks of studying abroad, I really love living in Amsterdam. It is a very small city, easy to get around, and there is always something going on, things to do, and museums and sites to explore.”

Brim’s study abroad experience, however, has been more of an adjustment, but she is adapting quickly. “It has been a few weeks for [DePauw students] but this is actually my first week of classes, so I’m definitely still getting adjusted to everything! But so far so good! My classes seem interesting and all the people here have been really kind and helpful,” Brim said.

Despite global COVID-19 challenges, DePauw students are managing to make the most of their time abroad and look forward to what the rest of the semester holds for them.