As of Fall 2021, most of SLU’s study abroad programs have officially reopened after travel was suspended for multiple semesters due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the semester prior, in Spring 2021, around 45 students were able to study at SLU Madrid with restricted access to travel after a full year of suspended study abroad programs.
Margaret Kessler is a study abroad counselor at SLU who works primarily with students interested in non-Madrid programs, as well as faculty and staff who are looking to lead short-term programs. She shared that out of the more than 40 abroad programs SLU offers, only two are still suspended this semester: Australia and Vietnam.
“Each program is a little bit different,” Kessler said. “The Australian borders are closed, so students wouldn’t be allowed into Australia. There are also some programs that we work with where the host institution is no longer supporting students going.”
One of these institutions is Loyola University Chicago, which has suspended its program in Vietnam for the Spring 2022 semester due to the pandemic. Though these programs remain temporarily suspended, many others are becoming increasingly relaxed on COVID-19 restrictions.
Mia McGrath is a junior who is currently studying on SLU Madrid’s campus, something she’s been hoping to do since beginning college. While she originally wanted to go during the Spring of 2021, she’s grateful she waited an extra semester for the city to open up more.
“When I decided to go, I thought even if COVID is still bad, I’ll either be in lockdown in Missouri or Madrid, and I’ve already done it once in Missouri, so I might as well go,” McGrath said. “I set my expectations super low because I thought I might not be able to travel at all.”
So far, though, McGrath has been able to travel every weekend she’s been there, which she credits to her being vaccinated.
“It’s strange because other than the masks, it pretty much feels normal,” McGrath said. “When we went to Portugal, you had to have a negative COVID-19 test, but for most countries, you just have to show your vaccination card.”
According to Kessler, SLU has an international travel advisory committee, which has been in place since before the coronavirus pandemic, to assess proposals made by students or faculty wanting to travel to countries that the U.S. Department of State (DOS) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has deemed a restricted region. The committee is composed of members across the University, including faculty for the Dean of Students’ Office, members of the public health sector on the medical campus, the general counsel and risk management.
“Before COVID-19, it was mostly about safety and security,” Kessler said. “So, if there was crime or an epidemic within that country.”
Although traveling is still not guaranteed due to the ever-changing nature of COVID-19, Europe’s travel restrictions have relaxed significantly since the Spring 2021 semester, which McGrath hopes to take advantage of.
Currently, she’s looking forward to weekend trips to Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Paris and London. During the week, McGrath looks forward to hearing about other students’ travels during her Latin Rhythms class.
“You dance with all the guys, and you rotate partners,” McGrath said. “So in Tuesday’s class, you’re like ‘How was your trip last weekend? Where did you go?’” McGrath said. “And in Thursday’s class, you’re like ‘So, where are you going this weekend?’”
While McGrath loves the aspect of being able to travel relatively freely throughout Europe, she’s also grateful for the time to practice her Spanish and learn about the culture of Madrid.
“It just totally changes your perspective on everything, just being around people of different cultures every day,” McGrath said. “I think that’s like the coolest part so far is constantly being reminded that the world is bigger than you, and there’s so much to learn from everyone.”