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Students abroad concerned travel restrictions from Omicron variant could keep them from coming home

Posted at 10:01 AM, Dec 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-08 10:01:14-05

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The new Omicron variant has caused a stir when it comes to international travel.

New regulations have prevented many from crossing borders and with a rise in new cases- that could cause disruption for many travelers, especially students abroad.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking because I have to test negative for Covid," says Sarah Abec, a student studying in Italy. "So it’s like I’m packing to leave and I have my plane ticket and everything’s ready, but will I? I won’t know until 24 hours until I go so that’s kind of nerve wracking.”

Sarah Abec is a senior at FGCU studying forensic studies. In 2020 she made plans to study abroad, except those plans were cut short because of, well, you know…

“I was supposed to study abroad September 2020 which, needless to say, I couldn’t," she says. "It’s been so long since I decided I wanted to study abroad. Someone asked me, ‘Why Sorrento?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t remember.' I just remember this being a plan.”

A plan that was made before Covid-19. Now, the new Omicron variant has made its presence known globally. Shutting borders and restricting air travel once again.

“I think about it all the time," said Abec. "I think about it every single day. My friends have been going out to eat at restaurants and stuff and I’m just like, ‘Oh- I’ll catch you guys later’ because it’s two weeks until I leave now and I’m not taking any chances. I’m definitely afraid that I’m going to test negative or there’s going to be a new policy put in place and I can’t come home. But yeah, it’s definitely a constant fear.”

A little more than 1,300 miles away, Mason Crocco is studying in London.

“I think, originally, when I first got here it was a little bit chaotic," says Crocco, who is majoring in psychology. "Especially because they drive on different sides of the road so I never knew when to go. But now it feels like second nature. I feel like because I’m American I’m not excluded.”

For Crocco, a big draw to studying abroad was experiencing sporting events. In fact- both students experienced different situations while on their travels.

"On my first day here- this is how different Italy does it compared to Florida- my first day, me and my friends went to dinner and the host asked me, ‘can I see your vaccination card?’" said Abec. "Obviously I didn’t have it with me, I didn’t even know I needed it! And I thought maybe he was targeting me like I had Covid or something like that. But I carry my vax card here everywhere I go. When we went to Pompeii, even though it’s out in the open, I needed it for that.”

"When it comes to taking the underground or the tube it’s not a rule enforcement now, but it’s more of a social stigma in which you should probably wear your mask," said Crocco. "But going to like Premier League games and stuff like that- where you’re outside- people don’t typically wear masks but because of this new variant, I feel like they will get more strict.”

As of right now, none of FGCU’s students traveling abroad this semester are impacted by border closures related to the Omicron variant. Next semester, FGCU has about 20 students slated to travel abroad with departures set for January and February. FGCU says they are closely monitoring each student’s travel plans.

“some of the requirements are for vaccinations and that sort of thing," said Matt Ryan, Assistant Director of the Global Engagement Office at FGCU. "So that’s all added a new element that we kind of have to analyze and go over and kind of help and guide students through that process. It’s extra hurdles but we’re still encouraging students to have experiences as long as it’s determined to be a safe destination.”

Something both Crocco and Abec say was worth for their trip.

“I had a semester or two to really think if I had a real college experience," said Crocco. "Having a semester where I had just online class and really just sitting in my dorm, maybe exercising and that’s about it, first semester made me feel like I was going through regret graduating and saying, ‘I actually missed out on a lot of stuff.”

“I would say do it," says Abec. "If you follow the precautions and you stay in the loop and you really take it seriously, just as Italy is or whatever country you want to study abroad in. It’s a great experience and I wouldn’t miss out.”

Abec says she’s returning in two weeks. She says she plans on attending law school once she graduates in the spring. While Crocco says he will be returning in a week, he is also scheduled to graduate this spring.