By Hong Ta– Reporting from Spain
In the Spring semester of 2020, the acceleration of the COVID-19 pandemic sent study abroad students home. Two years later, many programs are now back in full swing. Two major programs that the University of Puget Sound offers are in Dijon, France, hosted with L’Universite de Bourgogne and Granada, Spain, hosted with the University of Granada. However, although a steady decrease in cases is occurring, both countries are still facing the impact of a long pandemic.
According to Reuters, in Spain, the rate of COVID cases is 214 infections per 100K people reported in the last 7 days, while France reports 658.
Both countries require a European Union health pass to enter places such as restaurants. On February 2, 2022, France dropped their outdoor mask mandate. Spain followed suit on February 10, 2022. However, France’s hospital capacity is still fragile, as there are over 21,000 patients admitted with a connection to a COVID-19 infection.
When asked about France’s COVID safety measures, Charlotte Wong, third-year, stated “France has a lot of requirements for travelers coming into the country, including applying for a health pass and getting tested for COVID-19 within 48 hours of one’s departure, but it wasn’t difficult to fulfill them. I was surprised that the outdoor mask mandate was lifted.”
France has some of the strictest COVID-19 travel requirements in the EU, as described by Wong, who arrived in the country in early January. France dropped testing requirements for vaccinated travelers on February 12.
To compare, Spain only requires complete vaccination for people entering the country. When asked about Spain’s travel restrictions, a student who asked to stay anonymous, stated “I was shocked by the difference in COVID protocol. For example, here we were not required to get tested after travel and the guidelines for quarantine and testing were not as clear.” The student especially feared the possibility of bringing COVID to her host family.
While it is difficult to predict the future of study abroad programs during a continued pandemic, the two students from the programs had good experiences and advice for future underclassmen to keep in mind when applying. Wong stated: “Studying abroad during undergrad is an incredible opportunity to learn about and experience other cultures, so I would definitely encourage anyone who’s even thinking about studying in another country for a semester, or even a whole year, to go for it! Being able to stay with a host family and speak a mutual language other than English is such a rewarding experience that I don’t think I would’ve ever gotten to participate in had I not applied to study abroad.”
The student in the Granada program emphasized the opportunity to improve one’s ability to speak and write in a second language: “I have loved meeting so many new people and being able to practice Spanish every day! Already I have improved so much in my understanding of Spanish and I have newfound confidence brought by my ability to communicate in a different language.”
Overall, students have been steadily navigating balancing living in new countries and new classes under the environment of a pandemic.