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Support and Programming for Early Return Study Abroad Students

In a pre-pandemic world, students studying in countries like Italy and Spain would be preparing for final exams and projects in April, while others in Australia and Japan would be just getting started with their classes. Many students on campus in Raleigh would be looking forward to participating in summer study abroad programs.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has changed the spring 2020 semester dramatically for all NC State students, especially those studying, interning, or conducting research abroad. Over 400 NC State students were recalled home due to COVID-19 related health and safety concerns. Over a thousand more students planning to go abroad during the summer were affected by program cancellations and travel restrictions.

Returning home from abroad, or re-entry, can be a challenging time for study abroad students. Students may experience reverse culture shock, changes in relationships with their friends and family, and feelings of loneliness or boredom when readjusting to former routines. These challenges are further compounded when the return home is early and unexpected. NC State study abroad students who were recalled back to the United States due to the pandemic face additional difficulties including:

  • Flight cancellations, delays, and additional health and safety controls due to travel restrictions
  • Worry over academic continuity and classes being moved online
  • Concerns over their own health and well-being, in addition to that of friends and family
  • Necessity of processing complex emotions under self-quarantine and physical distancing
  • Financial stress
  • …and more, depending on students’ unique circumstances.

The Study Abroad Office has been working to provide resources to help early returning spring 2020 students connect and overcome these challenges. The Returning Student Resources page serves as a hub, linking students to existing resources around campus as well as to specific programming created for them. Some of these new resources include:

  • Spring 2020 Stories: Students can respond to questions about their study abroad experience, to have their thoughts shared on the Study Abroad website. This allows them to reflect on their experiences and share them with other students who are facing similar challenges.
  • Study Abroad Spring 2020 Virtual Drop-In Support Space: For the first three Mondays in April, students who wanted to connect in a more personal way could participate in a virtual group. Facilitated by the Counseling Center, this Zoom space gave students access to education, coping skills, and support.
  • COVID-19 Across Cultures: A student-led discussion: Three spring 2020 study abroad students, Mollie Fordham (UK), Alex Swanson-Boyd (Taiwan) and Rani Madhiwala (Chile) are facilitating a virtual discussion comparing the responses to COVID-19 that students have experienced both abroad and at home.
  • Virtual Suggestion Box: Students will be able to share their kudos, feedback, and comments with the Study Abroad Office through an anonymous online form and receive follow up if necessary.

Additional programming is also being planned to help students stay connected and internationally engaged over the summer. Some of the events include a photo contest and workshop to help students incorporate their study abroad experiences into their job or internship search.

Spring 2020 study abroad students are a model of the strength and resilience of the Wolfpack community during these challenging times. Bailey Poplin, who had to return early from her studies in Lille, France this semester, shared: “I have grown into someone I am proud of as I have stood up for myself, worked (very creatively) through extreme problems, and truly pushed myself to overcome this great challenge of studying abroad…I learned more about myself, my strength and durability.”