Students concerned over the omicron variant’s impact on study abroad and travel programs


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

Some students are grappling with the uncertainty of planning for study abroad and travel programs with the omicron variant.

Caroline Brew, Assistant Campus Editor

Weinberg junior Eric Gong entered college envisioning himself studying abroad in Europe, but he settled on studying in either Japan or South Korea because of the pandemic.

“One thing that made me hesitant to go to Europe was COVID and the racism toward Asians associated with it,” Gong said. “A lot of Asian countries also have a strict two-week quarantine, which I really appreciate.” 

The pandemic has continued to shape students’ plans regarding study abroad and travel programs, especially with the recent emergence of the omicron variant. 

Gong said he now worries whether his study abroad plans will happen at all. 

“I thought COVID was going to go away within one year, and now we’re reaching two years,” Gong said. “It might never go away, and that has to be taken into account as I make my plans, which is hard to do when things change all the time.”

Weinberg junior Wendy Chen said she planned to study in South Korea next fall to complement her economics degree. She hoped to learn about the impact of South Korea’s entertainment industry on the international economy.

However, with South Korea’s two-week quarantine, she said she is concerned about whether the program will conflict with her summer plans.

“If I do an internship, how soon do I have to leave?” Wendy Chen said. “And if there’s a quarantine, is it going to be for two weeks or 10 days or a week?”

For upperclassmen, Wendy Chen said studying abroad often requires them to find a subletter for their apartment, which is difficult given the pandemic’s uncertainty.

If she studies abroad, Wendy Chen said she will have to overload on classes for multiple quarters to complete her degree and certificate requirements to graduate. 

Students currently participating in domestic travel programs also expressed concern over the omicron variant impacting their plans. 

Medill sophomore Josh Chen is enrolled in the school’s Bay Area Immersion Program this quarter, where students learn about the intersection of media and technology. He said he was initially worried when Northwestern announced the first two weeks of classes would be virtual, but the program is taking place as planned.

“Last summer and spring with the vaccine, I thought everything would be a lot better,” Josh Chen said. “It’s kind of worrisome now, but I feel like they wouldn’t send us back unless things got really bad.”

Medill junior Vanessa Kjeldsen, who is participating in Medill on the Hill, a political journalism program in Washington, D.C., said there was a lot of uncertainty at first over its format. 

Kjeldsen said the program directors originally announced it would be virtual for the first two weeks, following NU’s decision for Winter Quarter. They revoked their decision the next day and stated classes would start in-person. However, when Kjeldsen arrived in D.C. Sunday, she received an email announcing the first week would be virtual.

“It was a little disappointing because so much of it is on Zoom now,” Kjeldsen said. “I’m just looking forward to getting past this week and a little more normalcy coming up, hopefully.”

According to Kjeldsen, the federal government’s policies will also determine whether certain aspects of the program, such as attending congressional hearings, will be held in person.

Despite the uncertainty, Kjeldsen said the restrictions have a seemingly minimal impact on the program so far.

“It’s just so surreal to finally be in this place at this program that I’ve been looking forward to for years,” Kjeldsen said. “I hope that we can maintain safety and ensure that we’re doing everything we possibly can to still get this wonderful experience.”

A previous version of this article misspelled Vanessa Kjeldsen’s name. The Daily regrets the error.

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