After a pause due to COVID-19, in-person study abroad opportunities are once again open to Mercer University students. Seven students have already gone overseas for the fall semester, and the Office of International Programs plans to offer its full catalog of programs in the spring and summer.
“It’s so exciting for our students. The last year and a half was heartbreaking to have to keep canceling the programs,” said Rebekah Anaya, study abroad associate director.
When the pandemic began, many programs were canceled or offered online instead. Some Mercer students participated virtually in Gilman Scholarship and exchange programs, and a few faculty members provided summer virtual experiences.
New requirements have made it possible to restart in-person study abroad, and the seven students abroad right now are in France, Morocco, Thailand, South Korea, Scotland and the United Kingdom.
“The policy is that all Mercer-approved participants have to be fully vaccinated before travel. That’s been a big help for our study abroad participants,” Anaya said. “We’re thinking about their safety, the safety of the community they’re going to and the Mercer community when they come back from being overseas.”
In addition, students may have other protocols to follow for the country they are visiting, such as COVID testing before departure and/or after arrival in the country, periods of quarantine, and strict mask requirements. Helena Berry, a senior international business and marketing double-major, said she had to arrive in South Korea with a negative COVID-19 test, quarantine for two weeks, and get tested again at the end of the quarantine period.
“With COVID, a lot of our students are worried about study abroad and what that means for them and their safety. But I would say to them, this is an experience that you cannot get anywhere else, and it really pushes you to learn more about different cultures and become a more empathetic, accepting person. If you have the ability to go abroad, it is something that you should not miss out on and something you should definitely work into your plan of study,” Study Abroad Coordinator Emily Dunn said.
Students can learn more about upcoming travel opportunities during Mercer’s Study Abroad Week, Sept. 13-17. In addition to workshops highlighting everything from locations to international post-graduate opportunities, the week will include a Study Abroad Fair from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sept. 15 in Penfield Hall. Anaya said the event is a great way for students to learn about exchange and affiliate programs, meet faculty who are leading programs, and get scholarship information.
Five of the students who are abroad now, including Berry, received Mercer’s needs-based Global Leader Scholarship, which can be used for exchange and affiliate programs that are eight weeks or longer. The Office of International Programs hopes to award more of these scholarships for the spring semester, Dunn said.
“It gives them the opportunity to really immerse themselves in the culture and be a student at that university,” Dunn said. “It’s a really fun scholarship. It’s one of our staples. We have every student apply for it that we can.”
Berry studied abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, as a sophomore and returned there on Aug. 1 for another semester. She is taking business classes like international finance and marketing and interning as a social media marketing assistant at a commerce company.
“I loved it here so much, so I just wanted to come back. From being here my first time, I decided I want to try to work here after graduation. Being able to come back again gives me another chance to strengthen my language skills,” Berry said. “I really want to advance my Korean language. I want to get to a point where I feel super comfortable to come back and work and speak fully in Korean.”
During her previous trip to South Korea, one of Berry’s favorite experiences was visiting the Gyeongbokgung Palace. She likes spending time in the Hongdae neighborhood, known for its shops, food and entertainment, and exploring Korea’s “café culture” by visiting themed coffee shops. This semester, she hopes to visit some of the tourist attractions that she missed last time.
Mercer is proud to be one of the country’s top producers of Gillman Scholars, and a recent change to the criteria has opened up new possibilities. The scholarship provides funding for students to travel or intern abroad, and the three-week minimum trip length has now been lifted. This means students can now apply for a Gilman Scholarship for short-term faculty-led trips and spring break programs, Dunn said.
“Students can use it to apply for any of our programs,” Anaya said. “There aren’t a lot of scholarship options for spring break study abroad programs. We love to send students abroad for as long as possible, but spring break programs are also great and sometimes a better fit for some students.”
In other study abroad news, the Mercer in London faculty-led program is now open to freshmen, making it the first semester-long program that first-year students can participate in. Students are able to take general education courses while there, making this program a good option for freshmen or sophomores, Dunn said.
“I think it’s so important for people to get out of their comfort zone and see and hear things and meet people that are so different from them,” Berry said. “I think it widens your perspective on everything. Seeing how people in other countries see the world, it expands your view. The world is so vast. You learn a lot about yourself, as well, when you’re put in an unfamiliar environment.”
The deadline to apply for Mercer’s spring exchange and affiliate programs is Oct. 1, and the deadline for faculty-led spring break programs and Mercer in London is Oct. 15.