Dear Kelly,

I am finally going back to university after a long break, and my classes are online, but last year I already paid and booked a long-awaited religious pilgrimage which is falling in the same weeks as my online classes. Classes have not started yet, but I’m wondering if it would be ideal to email the professors right now before classes start? Or would it be better to communicate about my travel plans with them once classes start?

To begin with, what an amazing experience you are going to have! I truly am excited for you! Last year the pandemic affected so many things, and one of those was the ability to travel. If there was anything that the quarantine seemed to teach us, it was to seize the moment and live every second to the fullest. 

With your classes being completely online, taking this religious pilgrimage while also completing coursework should be completely obtainable, but it will require some planning.

I would suggest contacting your professors ahead of time to let them know you will be traveling while you are enrolled in classes. I’ve found that being open and honest with professors creates a connection or bond, which is always great to have. I would explain the situation to them, provide them with your travel dates and where you will be traveling, as well as the potential for you possibly losing Wi-Fi from time to time.

Your professors may be able to work with you and offer suggestions, or, depending on the expectations for the course, they may recommend you take the course later. Contacting them ahead of the first day of class will give them the best opportunity to read your message and reply in a timely manner, so you can take the right course of action. 

If your professors suggest that you take your courses later, I don’t want you to be discouraged. Although you have taken a long break from classes, returning suggests that you have academic goals you want to accomplish. Remember, your professors know the time and effort that will be required in the course, and they want you to have the best chance of being successful and reaching those goals.

If, however, your professors do believe that you can successfully complete your courses while traveling, I would also go ahead and ask them if they have chosen the course materials yet. If they have, before you leave for your trip, you can go ahead and purchase any textbooks or items that you will need for the class. I would also suggest that you purchase hard copies of your textbooks, as you may lose internet from time to time depending on your location.

As soon as classes begin, download a copy of each syllabus to your computer and record all your assignment due dates in an offline calendar. Make sure that you understand the assignments, how to complete them and how to turn them in. Furthermore, take advantage of strong internet connections each time you have them. Complete discussion posts, download additional reading assignments and take quizzes each time you have a strong internet signal. Technically, you may never lose internet, but I wouldn’t advise taking chances with the belief that it will never happen. 

While you are gone, stay in contact with your professors for a couple of different reasons. Number one, you are demonstrating to them that you are actively engaged in your class, and you are committed to succeeding. Number two, you are also allowing them to be a part of your adventure. Send them pictures and talk with them about how what you are learning connects with your journey. You may be able to provide them with insight on how the course objectives can be implemented and translated into different parts of the world. You never know; your experience in different cultures may benefit your class as a whole.

After all, your use of the phrase, “religious pilgrimage,” paints an entirely different picture than, “I’m taking a vacation.” To me, it sounds like you are all about learning, and isn’t that what we, as students, are inspired to do? You are foraging new opportunities to learn more about the world, which is exactly what Mercer University encourages through programs like study abroad and Mercer On Mission. It sounds to me like you are well on your way to “changing the world” by learning all you can about it.

Good luck in your travels! Enjoy and relish every moment! 

And as always, I wish you health, happiness and continued success throughout all of your journeys.

Kelly Browning, a master’s student and student ambassador at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.


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