Studying Abroad in Your Living Room

COVID-19 causes changes to the Study Abroad program

By Peter Edwards
Observer Contributor

COVID-19 has sent the study abroad field into a state of flux for some time. The Study Abroad Consultant at MWCC Tracey Betts Sarefield said that COVID-19 has changed the way that study abroad is view and that there are new opportunities in a similar vein online.

Many organizations are pushing for and creating new, online opportunities that evoke the same sense of global community that Studying Abroad in Your Living Room COVID-19 causes changes to the Study Abroad program studying abroad affords. One
such organization is the U.S. State Department through their Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) program. The VSFS connects interested students to mentors from over 40 federal departments for an 8-month long internship. The sign-up process took place over the Summer but interested students can look forward to the 2021 version.

Betts Sarefield said that she feels that these new programs are more affordable and accessible to students. For students who desire the experience of travelling the world, many of them also have the opportunity to travel abroad later on, once the world is in a
more stable place.

Betts Sarefield is not pessimistic about the impact that the pandemic will have on the study abroad industry longterm. Regarding the industry, Betts Sarefield said, “Out of the ashes is something that is going to come that is better.”

Betts Sarefield said that the program will remain on the track of slow, sustainable growth whereas study abroad programs at other universities often fail due to committing too much financially up front. Betts Sarefield said that she plans to turn it into a foundational program and something that is simpler to plan for and around.

Given that it is still a relatively new development at MWCC, the awareness of the program is going to be small. However, introducing it to new students and finding ways to make it a realistic and affordable option will help the program thrive for years to come.

After receiving a $349,940 grant in late October 2018 from the federal government to launch a sustainable study abroad program, MWCC has had its first successful group trip to Peru, along with multiple students taking advantage of the option to study abroad individually.

The flyers around campus state that the total cost of the trip will be approximately $4,000. Although that may sound like not much more than the average cost of tuition for a semester here at MWCC, it only represents the cost of a two-week trip. If you planned on studying for an entire semester overseas, the cost would be much more substantial.

Given the demographic here at MWCC, flexibility for students is very important and the program allows just that. Not only will it help you reach your goal of graduating, MWCC offers programs of varying lengths.

According to an article written by a participant of MWCC’s trip to Peru in the summer of 2018, Alexandria Faneuf stated, “there are programs for all students, fitting any major and any budget. If you’re in a hurry, there are even programs that last 2-4 weeks!” And not only do these trips happen during the semester but during the summer as well, opening the door to many students that would otherwise be left without an option.

Studying abroad isn’t just about being in another country and studying the material you’d study in central Massachusetts, but an emphasis is put on the unique experience of being thrust into another culture and the learning experiences associated with that.  MWCC’s Dean for the School of Liberal Arts, Education, Humanities, and Communications Laurie Occhipinti was quoted on the MWCC website, “There is no question that we are living in an interconnected world. Culture, politics, the economy – they all transcend national boundaries. For students to have an understanding of the ways in which their lives and their communities are influenced by global trends and intercultural patterns is essential.”

Originally published in the Mount Observer. September 9, 2020