When I was in high school and doing the typical college search, one of my top priorities was always that the school I end up at had to have a study abroad program. I love traveling and seeing the world through the lens of different cultures, and being a political science major it just made sense for me to take advantage of a semester abroad. However, as you can imagine, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a bit of a wrench in my study abroad plans.
I started looking into the University of Maine’s study abroad options during the second semester of my freshman year and ultimately decided on the Spain program in Madrid. Around that time the vaccine was first being rolled out and I had very high hopes that by the second semester of my sophomore year the world would be mostly back to normal and I would have no issue studying abroad. Then came the delta variant. Instead of being anxious about the usual stuff such as being away from home in a foreign country and not being fluent in the language, I was worried about other things. I was worried that I could possibly miss out on the first normal semester of college at home, or that the pandemic would get worse and I wouldn’t even be allowed to travel, or get stuck in Spain. When talking to friends from other schools that were studying abroad during the fall 2021 semester I also learned that they were not allowed to leave the country they were studying in. A major reason why I chose the program in Madrid is because of the accessibility to travel throughout Europe. If I were unable to leave Spain it would be a dealbreaker for me. I have stayed in contact with the study abroad office, but since there are changes every day it is impossible to predict what the world will be like in even a few months.
Although there are plenty of negative aspects of studying abroad during a pandemic, I can’t help but also look at it as an extremely unique and fascinating experience. The world is in unprecedented times between the pandemic and the state of global politics. There most likely will never be a better time to study politics in another country than right now. I am also very lucky that I am able to take advantage of the University of Maine’s direct exchange program (if you are an in-state student I highly recommend looking at these programs) so my tuition will not change which means I would not have to worry about the cost of going abroad, other than plane tickets and personal expenses.
I got the email telling me that I was accepted into the program in Madrid a couple of weeks ago and immediately had an overwhelming wave of anxiety come over me because I knew I would have to make the decision sooner rather than later. As of now, according to the CDC, Spain is a COVID Level 4 High-Risk country. I am still taking things day by day and waiting for information, but I am optimistic that I may be able to have a somewhat normal study abroad experience although I have accepted that it may not be happening next semester.