Following the release of a new education abroad plan by New York state last semester, Binghamton University’s Office of International Education and Global Initiatives (IEGI) is moving forward with select study abroad programs for the spring and summer.

As education abroad programs across the SUNY system have begun to return this semester, the IEGI is preparing to restart two programs in early March. The programs are based in South Korea and are partnered with Korea University and Korea University Business School. According to Patricia Bello, assistant provost for the IEGI, they mark the first return to in-person study abroad programs through BU since March 2020.

Bello said she is excited to see the return of these programs after their hiatus.

“We are very eager to restart education abroad and to support students who look to enrich their degree by participating in education abroad,” Bello wrote in an email.

In addition to the two programs planned for this semester, applications are currently open for the study abroad programs offered this summer. These programs are based in the Czech Republic, Germany, Iceland, Italy, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Bello said though the IEGI has conducted extensive planning and safety preparation in coordination with SUNY and New York state for the spring and summer programs to take place, the Omicron COVID-19 variant makes it difficult to guarantee that students will be able to travel.

“Although we have nominated students for these [spring] programs, there is still a chance that [BU], SUNY, New York state or another entity will suspend these programs,” Bello wrote.

To ensure that study abroad programs will be safe to remain open, the IEGI is continuing to monitor country-specific COVID-19 infection rates, vaccination rates and SUNY guidelines on travel. Bello said programs based in countries with frequent or sudden border restrictions will also not be available this summer.

With BU’s education abroad programs slated to begin again next month, some students have expressed mixed feelings about traveling at this time.

Jaiden Price, a sophomore majoring in business administration, described how COVID-19 has affected her plans to take part in a study abroad program.

“I didn’t anticipate studying abroad until [my] senior year, so I hope that everything [with COVID-19] will be gone by then,” Price said. “But I definitely don’t feel comfortable studying abroad right now because of it.”

Due to the risks and uncertainty that students are facing with COVID-19, the IEGI has adapted the requirements for participating in education abroad programs to include three additional steps, according to Bello. One of these requirements is to participate in a live webinar focused on the risks of studying abroad. The informational session will cover topics such as the potential academic and financial hazards of traveling during the pandemic.

Students must also complete a risk assessment survey in addition to meeting with the adviser for their education abroad program. The IEGI encourages students interested in study abroad programs to review the guidance on traveling posted on the COVID-19 FAQ page found on their website, as well as the U.S. Embassy pages for country-specific information about travel requirements.

As the IEGI plans to increase the number of programs reopening in the future, some students are already planning ahead for the fall semester with other SUNY institutions.

Tara Mirza, a sophomore majoring in integrative neuroscience, is currently applying to a SUNY Cortland education abroad program based at the American University in Cairo. Mirza is optimistic about her program remaining open.

“Unless the program is completely canceled due to [COVID-19], I think the risk of going is up to you,’’ Mirza said. “The program I am going on still happened this spring, which gives me hope that it will happen in the fall.”

Although the IEGI cannot guarantee that every study abroad program will remain open due to the ever-evolving pandemic, Bello said they are working toward that possibility.

“With the support of our University’s administration and the continued dedication of our team and our students, we remain hopeful that we will be able to restart a select number of programs in 2022,” Bello wrote.

For students interested in expanding their horizons with education abroad, the IEGI recommends visiting the IEGI and SUNY study abroad websites for more information. For information on specific programs, there will be numerous informational sessions throughout the semester. The IEGI will also be holding drop-in advising hours every Monday through Thursday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. this semester, in Old Champlain Hall Room 240.