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Travel restrictions create hardships, opportunities for students

With much of the world engulfed in the COVID-19 pandemic, travel restrictions and health concerns have jeopardized education for international students and students who planned to study abroad.

On March 19, 2020, The U.S. Department of State issued a global travel advisory, which strongly discouraged any sort of travel outside the country due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In response to the advisory, NMSU suspended all forms of international travel, which included study-abroad opportunities for students.

(Illustration courtesy of Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash)

It has now been over one year since the advisory was first issued, and although travel restrictions aren’t as strict today, the pandemic still rages on. Accordingly,  the question remains: How can international students and those hoping to study abroad still further their education?

Erica Nikolaisen, program manager of Education Abroad & National Student Exchange, said that all NMSU students who were learning outside the country during spring 2020 were returned home in March and completed their program online in the U.S. The Education Abroad office worked with students to assist them with making travel arrangements and worked with program providers to help the students receive partial refunds after being forced to leave early.

“Tran has been studying at NMSU for three years. He says that while the pandemic is unfortunate for everyone, it is more difficult for him now because he has not been able to go home to Vietnam in two years.”

“This decision was not made lightly,” Nikolaisen said. “We are prioritizing the mitigation of potential health and safety risks for NMSU students, as well as our faculty members, host communities and program partners.”

Phuc Tran, an international student from Vietnam majoring in journalism, said that the travel ban and pandemic have been very difficult to endure. Tran has been studying at NMSU for three years. He says that while the pandemic is unfortunate for everyone, it is more difficult for him now because he has not been able to go home to Vietnam in two years. Tran also has had a hard time keeping in contact with his family on the other side of the world.

“The only ways I keep in touch with my family and friends are through Facebook Messenger, FaceTime and Instagram. Because there’s a 14-hour difference between Las Cruces and Vietnam, my family and I must set up a time when it’s convenient for all of us to talk,” Tran said.

The Education Abroad program began offering virtual international experiences during the fall 2020 semester. This gives students the opportunity to take part in educational programs from all over the world, from the comfort of their homes in the U.S.

These virtual experiences include remote internships, undergraduate research, online language institutes and even traditional coursework through partnerd universities. According to Nikolaisen, there are currently 10 students enrolled in virtual international programs compared to just two students during the fall 2020 semester.

“Without the travel expenses of traditional education abroad programs, virtual international experiences are very affordable. We offer scholarships for virtual international experiences,” Nikolaisen said.

Nikolaisen added that while the university plans to provide more on-campus classes and activities for students this upcoming fall, there are no definite plans regarding international travel services.

“We hope international travel will resume in the near future, however, we plan to continue to offer virtual international experiences as part of our permanent portfolio of program offerings,” Nikolaisen said.

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