As the semester comes to a close and students on the University’s campus prepare for finals week, there are 27 students that have a unique experience of finishing the semester studying abroad. This is the first time that the University has permitted students to study abroad since the Spring 2020 semester. Students who were abroad at that time had to come back early because of the spread of COVID-19. While the University did not host any programs of its own this semester, it permitted students to study with certain programs.

Junior Catherine Kemnitz is currently studying in Barcelona with International Education of Students Abroad (IES), one of the programs approved for students to attend during Fall semester. 

“I was really nervous about how it would go because Villanova hasn’t sent students in so long,” Kemnitz said of being part of the small group of students authorized to study abroad for the semester. I’ve had the chance to meet so many new people and do so many new things. Given the past year or so with COVID, it was so amazing to be able to explore again.”

This is an experience that many students are looking forward to in future semesters, but could be threatened by the variant B.1.1.529, named Omicron, and labeled as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization. There is some concern that Omicron could threaten those studying abroad in Spring 2022. While there have been other variants of COVID-19, Omicron is exhibiting many mutations, which could be a characteristic that could threaten the efficacy of vaccinations. Nevertheless, the University is requiring proof of vaccination for all students going abroad. 

The threat of a variant that is more contagious and in which vaccines are less effective against has sent countries into disarray. Many countries have increased international travel restrictions. Some are restricting travel from southern African countries including South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique, which includes stopping flights from those countries and barring citizens from those countries into their borders. Some countries are requiring travelers to quarantine once entering the borders, similar to restrictions from a few months ago. The United Kingdom is requiring travelers to quarantine until a negative PCR test on the second day in the country. Other countries, like Japan, are closing borders to non-citizens. 

These travel restrictions threaten not only the program that students will be part of for the semester, but traveling to different countries during their time abroad as well. There are roughly 100 Villanova students that will be studying abroad next semester. 

Junior Gabbi Forte is studying abroad in Barcelona as part of the CIEE Business and Culture program in Barcelona. While CIEE has not released any changing plans for the program, it “has a variety of measures in place including mask and quarantine regulations to keep everyone healthy and in Spain for the entirety of the program,” Forte said.

Because of the Omicron variant, students studying abroad next semester are worried about how their experiences might differ from those that went during the Fall. 

“While I am hopeful that my study abroad program will run smoothly, it is difficult to allow myself to be excited for it,” Forte said. “The recent spread of the Omicron variant makes me even more tentative to expect any sense of normalcy and security while abroad.”

Scientists are in the midst of researching more about the variant, and programs will be expected to announce any changes in the coming weeks as more information becomes available. For now, students have to hope that they will be able to experience the same type of abroad experience as the two dozen Villanovans that got to study abroad this semester.