While planning her fall semester abroad, Donia A. Elmansy ’23 said she felt like she was “in limbo” as she struggled to navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“It was all very uncertain,” she said. “The Office of International Education wasn't really sure if it would be able to go through with it.”
Elmansy’s planning eventually paid off, and she was able to spend the fall in Denmark.
After nearly two years defined by travel restrictions, case surges, and canceled plans, Harvard’s study abroad programs have returned. With a sense of normalcy underway, College students reflected on recent study abroad experiences and looked to the future with optimism.
Eight students studied abroad during the fall 2021 term, according to Camila Nardozzi, director for the OIE. Study abroad opportunities had been suspended since fall 2020 due to travel restrictions.
For the duration of the 2020-2021 academic year, the OIE’s Study Away program was the only study abroad opportunity and was limited to international students. The program allowed international students to enroll in local universities in lieu of attending Harvard’s online classes.
“This opportunity allowed for students to take courses in their local time zones, rather than having to take courses at all hours of the day and night, based on their location and the course schedule here in Cambridge,” Nardozzi wrote in an emailed statement.
Throughout Elmansy’s time in Denmark, Covid-19 restrictions were lax with free rapid testing available at test centers, but the advent of the Omicron variant posed challenges.
“When Omicron hit, things did get a little more chaotic because we, students, were interacting with each other,” Elmansy said.
Vladyslav “Vlad” Ivanchuk ’23 is currently studying abroad in Denmark, though restrictions have loosened once again since the initial Omicron surge.
“Denmark has zero Covid restrictions,” Ivanchuk said. “Masks are not a thing anymore.”
Ivanchuk said travel is “deeply integrated” into his studies, providing him with both academic and practical knowledge.
“This program is a nice break from [the] very stressful and high-pressure environment that Harvard sometimes is,” Ivanchuk said. “It has so far been much more relaxing and just less time-consuming to complete coursework.”
“That gave me a lot of opportunities to explore the city, meet people from all over the country — both Americans and local students in Denmark — and just expand my horizons,” he added.
B. Ashton Alexander ’23 said the pandemic “opened the door” for the opportunity to study abroad in Florence, Italy.
“When the pandemic hit, and when I ultimately decided to take a gap year, [studying abroad] was part of the motivation,” Alexander said. “Now I [had] a whole ’nother year — two more semesters where that can again become a possibility.”
“I'd be lying if I said that I wish I was on campus right now,” Alexander added. “Being able to study abroad, and just sort of the opportunities that I'm being exposed to here — wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Elmansy, who is back on campus for the spring semester, said her experience studying abroad was “overwhelmingly positive.”
“I learned so much and was able to see so much in the world in such a short amount of time,” she said. “[At] no other point in your life will you be able to be given four months to go and see people from all around the world and live in a new environment.”
This semester, roughly half the normal number of students are studying abroad, according to Nardozzi. The OIE expects study abroad opportunities to return to pre-pandemic levels this summer and fall.
Selam Ambaw ’25, who plans to either study abroad in Spain or Argentina this summer, said the pandemic helped her realize her priorities. Ambaw hopes to immerse herself in the Spanish language while abroad.
“[The pandemic] made me certain that I wanted to try to take advantage of every opportunity to travel safely,” Ambaw said. “Learning about culture and language, being able to experience and more organically learn different things than you’d be able to on Harvard's campus is something that's really cool.”
—Staff writer Omar Abdel Haq can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Ashley R. Masci can be reached at email@example.com.