Although SUNY has announced that all study abroad programs are suspended through summer 2021, Binghamton University’s Office of International Education and Global Initiatives (IEGI) is keeping the ball rolling to bring the unique experience of international academia to students.

With all of the uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon students, BU’s study abroad program has been trying to help students virtually. Rachel Slotnick, a senior double-majoring in music and anthropology who was unable to study abroad in fall 2020, reflected that even as programs got shut down, IEGI was communicative and supportive.

“I found out a few weeks after everything shut down due to [COVID-19], so it was probably around early April,” Slotnick wrote. “It was communicated very well — everyone involved in the study abroad office is super sweet and helpful. They really want to accommodate all students.”

IEGI is still connecting students with programs and scholarships, which can be found on the IEGI website. Patricia Bello, assistant provost for international education and global affairs and director of international student and scholar services (ISSS), is looking forward to sending students abroad in the future.

“The pandemic will not last forever, and we want to ensure that our students are ready and excited to go abroad once programs restart,” Bello wrote in an email.

IEGI is continuing to hold virtual information sessions for most of the education abroad programs to garner interest and provide a glimpse at post-COVID-19 travel. This also allows for students who need several semesters of academic or financial planning to do so, even while the programs are suspended. IEGI also held a Virtual Education Abroad Fair on Wednesday, Feb. 17, giving students a chance to learn about different programs, meet IEGI advisors and speak to alumni about their study abroad experiences.

SUNY, and by extension BU, canceled all summer 2021 study abroad programs as of Jan. 28, and the prospect of fall 2021 programs still remains unclear. According to SUNY’s website, SUNY is actively monitoring the state of the pandemic and is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel health notices.

Normally, CDC travel health notices are for different diseases, such as yellow fever or polio. Now, the CDC has created an additional four-tier scale specifically for COVID-19, ranging from low to very high risk. Around 180 countries, including the United States, are currently at levels 3 and 4, or high risk, while about 40 countries are at levels 1 and 2, or moderate to low risk. IEGI generally will only run programs in countries at levels 1 or 2. Only two countries in BU’s range of programs meet this criterion: South Korea, which is at level 2, and Vietnam, at level 1.

Despite the optimism about future travel abroad programs, Slotnick said she feels like she missed out on a great opportunity.

“It would have been sick to have the experience of being a college student in a foreign country, especially as an anthropology major,” Slotnick wrote. “I really love meeting people and getting to know the idiosyncrasies of unfamiliar cultures.”

Students who still plan on studying abroad in the summer must do so through a non-SUNY program. Academic advisors within the student’s discipline will work with students to ensure credit can transfer from different programs outside of SUNY. A special application is also necessary for non-SUNY programs.

According to Bello, the pandemic has necessitated several extra steps that students will need to take in order to participate in education abroad. In addition to meeting with their academic advisors to make sure students can earn credit for their program, they will also have mandatory advising appointments with their education abroad advisor and the associate director for international partnership development and global health and safety.

IEGI has also created a webinar that students should review to evaluate the risk of travel during the pandemic, which can be found on the IEGI COVID-19 FAQ page. There is also a Risk Assessment Self-Survey so that students truly consider the ramifications of travel for themselves and those they live with, as well as keep aware of countries with varying quarantine rules and COVID-19 restrictions that need to be considered. Fall 2021 study abroad applicants are also advised to have a contingency plan, in case their programs get canceled.

For students uncomfortable with travel, there is still the opportunity to have a taste of culture and learning outside of BU. SUNY is running virtual study abroad programs, including online internships and immersive language courses. More information can be found on the SUNY Study Abroad site.

IEGI is continuing to run information sessions throughout the semester, and virtual advising is available every Monday to Friday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Although COVID-19 has slowed many initiatives to a halt, students are encouraged by the IEGI to start planning early.