FORT MYERS, Fla. — COVID-19 has changed the way people travel and the same is true for students preparing to study overseas.
Planning is underway for some colleges in Southwest Florida who do anticipate offering study abroad programs this year. Others are on hold.
Florida Southwestern State College said it has tentative plans to bring students and faculty abroad in the summer.
Among the conversations being had, are about things like travel restrictions. Specifically, what would happen if they're put in place after a program arrives.
Part of the way FSW said it’s responding to this is by only choosing direct flights. Then once at their destination, they have established strong partners they work with, who are committed to student health and wellness.
The CDC has issued guidance for colleges and universities saying they should consider postponing or canceling student international travel programs.
But the director of international education at FSW said there are some schools that already have students abroad right now. He's communicating with his colleagues on those trips and is watching closely.
“In many regards they're almost like the test pilots or the guinea pigs,” said Michael Messina, Director of International Education at FSW.
“What I've heard from them is that you know they were very deliberate in the destinations that students could go to. They were very deliberate in the countries, the partners who they chose to go with. And many of those are located in western and central Europe,” he added.
Right now FSW is actively working with about 60 students who plan to travel abroad this summer. They anticipate that number will get to about 75.
And they're noticing the type of student who's interested in traveling abroad now, is much different than in year's past. The pandemic is what's actually motivating many to want to travel now.
When looking at the makeup of the around students who've already signed up, it's drastically different from trips in year's past.
More students in this year's group have traveled abroad before. One way to tell is the fact that significantly more of them already have passports.
“When I first came into this position and we sent 34 students abroad in Summer 2019 to Italy, maybe a third of those students had a passport,” Messina explained.
“Two years later now in 2021, and given all that's happened, we're seeing a very different population emerge. Of the 60 students we're working with, I would say probably two thirds of them already have passport. And so we're seeing a different type of student that's curious about study abroad right now,” he said.
He said in talking with students and parents about what's motivating them to travel now, the pandemic and opportunity to see how other parts of the world are handling it is a motivating factor.
“This really is an exciting time to see how the world responds to a global health crisis. What is society like, how are they interacting, how is that different than how we as a nation and how we as a state of Florida are responding. It really is like a sociological experiment on how societies function now versus how they may have previous to all this, and then what is yet to come,” said Messina.
He described the summer trip as an opportunity to get a bird's eye view of history.
Fox 4 also checked in with Florida Gulf Coast University, who said its study abroad programs are currently on hold.