Students are beginning to look ahead to study abroad programs in Summer, 2021. We are noting a common thread in inquiries, almost a hesitancy to hope that it can really happen. We completely understand this. Those of us for whom travel is a huge part of of lives and work found our dreams put on hold this past year. We are almost afraid to get our hopes up, lest they be dashed again.
We know some of you have postponed your study abroad plans once, twice, perhaps even three times now. For some of you it is a degree requirement. But it is more than that; it’s the opportunity to experience life abroad. It is likely a big part of the reason you signed on to study international relations or a foreign language.
We hear you. We’ve been doing all we can to bring you to our part of the globe virtually, but we also want you to experience those places on the ground. We recognize that this coming year is still going to be one filled with some hesitations and concerns that include not only health and risk, but also whether a program that you have your heart set on will be running.
We want to address the most frequent questions we’ve had posed to us about study abroad in Summer, 2021.
1. Will SRAS be running study abroad programs in 2021?
In short, yes. We intend to move forward with our summer and fall study abroad programs in all locations. Aside from using our 2020 “down time” to move very actively into the online space, we have been reviewing all programs, updating syllabi, fine-tuning cultural programming – and reviewing health and safety procedures.
SRAS has long been known for flexibility and our ability to adapt to changing landscapes. Our offerings in multiple locations provide students with back-up options to achieving goals in Russian language proficiency, studies in international relations, diplomacy, and more. We are used to making adjustments prompted by State Department advisories and our own monitoring of events on the ground. We can shift students to other SRAS locations if needed.
2. Will these programs look any different from prior years?
It is safe to say that yes, in some ways, study abroad will be different everywhere. The degree to which we will sense these changes on the ground will depend in great part on the extent to which the risks of COVID-19 have been controlled through vaccines, improved treatment, herd immunity advances, and other factors. At present, we do know, for example, that travel outside of a base city of study in Russia will likely not be allowed, which means any organized group travel would shift to the end of the program. We hope that such a restriction is lifted by summer, but it is one of many changes we may need to consider.
3. What if my school cancels university-sponsored travel this summer?
University-sponsored travel, including exchanges, faces more challenges in the current environment than does independent study abroad. Faculty-led programs are very often designed around early commitment of a critical mass of students. The expected delays in student commitment to summer study abroad, even if only a few weeks, is much more problematic for those programs. There is also a greater degree of real or implied liability, which has resulted in great expenses incurred to universities this past year. While there are some faculty-led programs proceeding with plans for summer 2021, it is more limited. Most moving forward with SRAS-supported faculty-led programming are those who will be integrated into base SRAS summer programming, which is a much lower risk proposition as it allows for a back-up plan for students – to enroll directly with SRAS.
Keep in mind that “university-sponsored” travel does not necessarily impact programs such as SRAS. Cancellation in some way of all study abroad is the last thing anybody wants to do again, and we can assume that if that were to happen, it is for a good reason.
4. What about deadlines and financial commitments?
Deadlines exist for a reason. Securing a student visa, for instance, takes time. With some programs, we also need to assess whether some of the more specialized/topical courses have enough students to run, or if we need to ask students to consider their back-up program or location.
We are confident enough of summer that we will ask for deposits to hold positions in the programs. While typically these deposits are non-refundable, we will hold them as refundable in 2021 as long as possible. What this means is that we will communicate with you at each step when we reach a point where something, such as visa processing, needs to start, and a deposit would become non-refundable.
Once we are at the point where program fees are due – typically one month ahead of arrival – the overall situation should be clear enough to warrant standard payment and refund policies.
5. Should I get Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) insurance?
CFAR insurance, from our perspective, is mainly about your tolerance for risk. If the situation on the ground is such that there is a clear threat to health, safety, or student mobility, program providers will do everything possible to a) ensure academic continuity, and b) to the extent possible, reimburse room & board costs. If you or other stakeholders have a low risk tolerance and feel that there could be a situation where even though SRAS* is proceeding as planned with your program, that you do not feel comfortable and decide to cancel either prior to or after arrival, then CFAR insurance may be for you. Keep in mind that a) this type of insurance is not cheap, and b) it generally has strict requirements as to when you need to purchase it. The cost of CFAR insurance is in many cases being allowed in calculating budgets for financial aid.
We do, however, strongly suggest looking for the most flexible flight arrangement. Airlines thus far have been waiving change fees and will likely continue to do that for some time longer as an incentive to get people traveling again. Once they do revert to more standard policies, you should again assess your risk tolerance and decide whether or not to purchase flight insurance. Be sure to look into the exact conditions for that insurance.
*SRAS does not make these decisions in isolation. We would look at the situation on the ground and assess it based on a combination of best practices and discussion with other providers and study abroad advisors.
6. What will visa and entry processes be like?
We do not know yet. The moment we receive news that Russian visa processes have restarted, we will post this information immediately. We believe the visa process itself will not change, but there may be requirements at point of entry. COVID tests could be required either as taken within 48-72 hours of arrival, or upon arrival. This is currently the situation for Ukraine. Or, if we are lucky, this requirement is dropped in parallel with broader distribution of a vaccine and much lower rates of COVID. As new information about visas and entry conditions for our study locations becomes available we will post it here.
We are optimistic study abroad in Summer 2021 and beyond. At the same time, we fully expect you to have more questions than usual. We will make regular use of the SRAS Blog and social media to keep everybody up-to-date on major changes such as border openings and resumption of visa processes as we approach deadlines for summer study. We will also be working hand-in-hand with study abroad offices. Most of all, we welcome your questions and we are ready to help you navigate study abroad in 2021!