Ohio University

Global Opportunities creates website for students travelers impacted by COVID-19

Published: May 19, 2020 Author: George E. Mauzy Jr.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early March, more than 200 Ohio University students were either studying abroad or enjoying a spring break program outside of the United States. 

While most spring break travelers returned to the U.S. on their scheduled flights, many of the semester study away students could not because they didn’t have plans to return home until the end of their academic semester in the host country. In fact, some of the students had recently arrived at their location but were now advised to return home for their safety.

The Office of Global Opportunities has created a new website to help the students cope with the disappointment of having their study away experience cut short. The website is designed to help OHIO students who have experienced challenges like program cancellations, partial semesters abroad, fear of illness and quarantine, and loneliness.

Samantha Rommel, a study away advisor in Global Opportunities, said the office had been working on enhanced returned student resources before the pandemic because the return student process can be challenging under normal circumstances.

“Sometimes it’s hard for students to talk about their experiences when they come back,” Rommel said. “It started with us just wanting to have a website with more resources, but when COVID-19 happened, it became more important in our eyes to address the types of feelings and troubles that the students may now have.”

The webpage has resources for students to share their study abroad experiences and how it has impacted them. It also features tools and articles to help them process their grief and realize the resilience they gained by dealing with this unfortunate situation.

When students were recalled because of COVID-19, Rommel said she reached out to her international education colleagues at other universities to find out what they were doing for their student travelers.

She said Virginia Commonwealth University built a great student travelers website that was simple and straight forward. She said it was such a good model, her office decided to build a similar one. Rommel and her Global Opportunities colleague Emily Englehart worked together to create the new website that went live in early April.

“The students who had just returned said it was nice to have the resources available to them,” Rommel said. “Our peer advisors said they wish they had these resources when they returned from their travels abroad.”

Kirsten Dabelko, Global Opportunities senior program coordinator, with the help of Rommel and Samantha Christopher and Rebecca Conrad-Davenport from OHIO Counseling and Psychological Services, also offered a returned student dialogue on Microsoft Teams to help students cope during the pandemic.

The online sessions gave the returned students a supportive space to talk about their travel experiences with other students who may be dealing with the same issues.

For some of the students, that was a pretty dramatic return,” Dabelko said.

After the pandemic arrived during spring break, the University issued a blanket recall for all study abroad students because it was unpredictable where the virus would hit and to what extent.

“We were right, it really did hit everywhere,” Dabelko said. “While some countries look safer than others, they may not have the capacity to deal with foreigners.”

While Global Opportunities offered support, Dabelko said some students figured out how to get home by themselves after being asked to return.

“One of the students recalled going through three or four airports within 36 hours just to get home,” she said.

Dabelko said talking to other students who have had similar experiences has been helpful for the returned students.

“Students often experience reverse culture shock and usually don’t have anyone to talk to about this stuff,” Dabelko said. “Many of them had to come home and self-quarantine, so it was a really challenging time for them.”

Dabelko said one student was with his mother on spring break in Europe and wasn’t able to gather his personal things before he returned home. He had them shipped home.

“That’s not how you plan for your trip to end,” Dabelko said. “We wanted to help folks find their footing again and employ lessons learned from their experiences. We think there are a lot of career soft skill benefits in study abroad trips anyway, but handling this type of situation on your own is something to be proud of.”

Dabelko said the returned students are generally finding their way and it is a little easier knowing that everyone has felt an impact.

“We are still open to conversations with the students,” Dabelko said. “We want to find the lessons learned from this experience.”