Bella McCord Winchester and other SOU students resumed international experiences this year

SOU students get back to international experiences after COVID pause

International experiences have resumed this year for many Southern Oregon University students, following a pandemic-related pause that limited travel for most SOU programs.

Outdoor Adventure Leadership programs led the way in summer 2021, with eight students traveling to Ecuador, and nine to Mexico and Belize, as part of OAL’s signature international expedition experiences. Another 12 students traveled to a total of nine countries during fall term 2021, by way of study abroad and exchange programs offered through SOU’s Office of International Programs.

International programs offer students experiential education, in which every moment inside and outside the classroom can be a chance to dig deeper into language, culture and society. International travel is also a crash course in planning and preparation – even more so during COVID. For those students who navigated visa delays, vaccination and testing requirements for flights, and arrival quarantines, the payoff was worth it.

International Studies major Alia Sager wanted to improve her French language skills abroad, but getting there tookAlia Sager's international experiences were in France flexibility when her initial program location closed, and when French visas took extra long to be processed.

“My advice for other students studying abroad in the COVID era is not to get discouraged,” Sager said. “There were many days where I didn’t know if the trip would be possible or not.  Plan for the best!  Even if things seem unlikely, in my case it all pulled together right before and I was able to go.”

She spent the semester in Lyon, France through study abroad partner provider USAC, in the company of students from around the world.

“The one language we had in common was French,” Sager said. “I realized just how challenging the term would be … because I had to push myself out of my comfort zone so far on a daily basis I came back a completely different person who feels more confident and secure in who I am and what I have to offer.”

SOU Education Abroad advisor Ariel Bloomer, who helps students explore program options and provides guidance during the application and pre-departure process, said that students who step outside their comfort zone tend to “step into the growth zone.”

“Everyone’s comfort zone is different, though, which is why our study away program portfolio includes such a broad range of options,” Bloomer said.

The National Student Exchange program offers opportunities within the U.S. and Canada, while SOU direct exchanges and study abroad partner providers offer options around the world.

“These experiences can also help demonstrate to employers a range of desired skills, including cultural agility, adaptability, creative problem-solving, language and ability to navigate through new processes around visas and travel,” Bloomer said.

Isaac Wilson enjoyed international experiences in FinlandBusiness major Isaac Wilson’s highlights in Finland came from a trip into the Arctic Circle, where he met reindeer, rode snowmobiles and saw the magnificent lights of the Aurora Borealis.

“Studying abroad is an opportunity to mature as a person and a way to become more independent as a person coming into adulthood,” said Wilson, who is pursuing one of the unique year-long exchange options for business majors that results in a dual degree from his European host university after graduation.

“I was incredibly fortunate to be able to study in Korea during COVID,” said Communication major Sophie Haney, who spent the fall in Gwangju, South Korea.

“I would encourage anyone who wants to study abroad right now to find a way to do it safely because it was truly a life-changing experience,” Haney said. “I think the most important thing is to understand the safety procedures of whatever country you want to visit and make sure you are following them, because then you’ll be able to fully enjoy whatever opportunities are there.”

Exchange partner university Chonnam National University in South Korea was unable to hold in-person classes during the semester due to COVID, which was initially a disappointment for Emerging Media and Digital Arts major Ezra Farner, who also studied in Gwangju this fall.

Sophie Haney and Ezra Farner had many international experiences in South Korea“My advice to students traveling in COVID is to make the most of the opportunities you have and to not dwell too much on the things you can’t control,” Farner said. “I was hoping to be able to have in-person classes when I traveled abroad and that ended up not being the case – but the advantage of that was being able to travel to other cities and take classes from various places around the country!”

Senior Communication major Bella McCord recalled the re-opening of British theatre as one of the highlights of her semester on exchange with the University of Winchester.

“I saw four shows throughout my four months away and it was so fulfilling to be able to enjoy theatre again when COVID had taken it away for so long,” McCord said. “Plus, they were all favorites I had never seen live, or shows I had never seen before but I had been waiting for the opportunity to see for years (Wicked!).”

This year’s intrepid crop of student travelers emphasized safety and risk-mitigation as key to a successful time abroad.

“If you get sick while abroad it does feel like you’re wasting what precious little time you have. Wear your mask in public places even if others aren’t, and book the correct kind of COVID tests before entering and exiting,” she said, because countries specify which of the many types of tests are acceptable.

Business major Kyle Hart, studying for the year at University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, said to “make sure thatKyle Hart's international experiences took him to Nottingham you are fully vaccinated and take care of yourself … but there is a lot more joy and things to learn than fear when you go abroad.”

Sophie Haney added that South Korea “had really strict quarantine procedures when we first got there and more limited public gathering options than the U.S., but it meant that we felt safe traveling within the country and taking advantage of the fun events and opportunities.”

Students wanting to explore options for travel for summer or during academic year 2022-23 should contact the Office of International Programs to set up an appointment to speak with an Education Abroad advisor, explore the OIP page on Inside SOU to browse available programs and talk with their academic advisor(s) about studying away for their major or minor.

Story by Ariel Bloomer, SOU Education Abroad advisor