Many Cal Poly students study abroad at some point during their college career and may begin to envision this process as early as freshman year. These plans, however, shifted during the pandemic. Now with a better understanding of the circumstances created by the pandemic, students are relearning how to navigate studying abroad. 

Before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a pandemic, Julia Kelley, a 2020 Cal Poly biomedical engineering graduate, studied abroad through Semester at Sea during the fall quarter of her junior year.

Semester at Sea is a multi-country study abroad program traveling by ship with an emphasis on global comparative studies. Through Semester at Sea, Kelley ventured through Europe, Africa, Asia and North America in the span of three months. 

“It was just so amazing to see so many corners of the world that I may never see again in such a short amount of time,” Kelley said. 

Kelley went abroad in the fall of 2018, and the thought of a pandemic happening was something she never considered. 

“We were required to take some vaccines before the trip and take malaria pills a week before heading to Africa, but I never thought that a [virus] would heavily impact my trip,” Kelley said.

Reflecting on her experience, Kelley said that the COVID-19 pandemic would have negatively affected her time abroad. 

“There are many different political views when it comes to COVID,” Kelley says, “I feel like it would have impacted the friendships I made while abroad.”

Entering out of the pandemic, many students are now navigating traveling abroad safely while still trying to make the most of it, like political science senior Annie Kettman.

Kettman studied abroad in Spain during the fall quarter of 2021. Although she was granted the opportunity to finally study abroad post-pandemic, there were many requirements regarding COVID-19 safety protocol. 

“Each country has its own rules [regarding COVID-19], so we were constantly checking to see if we had to get tested, if there were curfews and had the constant fear that we might get stuck in a foreign country,” Kettman said. 

Despite the COVID-19 regulations, Kettman still tried to gain as much as she could from her experience, whether through her volunteer work at an elementary school where she was immersed in the Spanish language or exploring nine different cities in Europe.

“One of the main benefits of studying abroad right after the pandemic is that many well-known, touristy places were completely vacant, so I knew I was experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime moment,” Kettman said. 

Kettman is now a Cultural Experiences Abroad (CEA) Ambassador, where she is a resource to students who are curious about studying, especially amidst a pandemic.  

“One of the biggest trends I have noticed is that this quarter there is a major influx of fourth years studying abroad,” Kettman said. “A lot of people in that year were planning to study abroad their junior year, but decided not to because school was mainly back in-person.” 

Sociology senior Siena Parsons studied abroad in Peru Spring 2022 through Cal Poly Global Programs. Similar to Kettman, Parsons also had COVID-19 requirements that she had to abide by.

“The mask mandates were a lot stricter in Peru than the U.S.,” Parsons said. “Peru lacked resources and oxygen, so we were required to wear masks in public.”

Despite the implications of COVID-19 with study abroad programs, Parsons found that her decision to follow through with the commitment has ultimately left her with new perspectives.

“I would not have had the same experiences that I had in Peru in the United States,” Parsons said. “Study abroad has broadened my view on the world and has allowed me to be independent.”