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Studying Abroad Amidst A Global Pandemic: These Sun Devils Took “Coronacation” To Another Level

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

By Walt Campbell

When Jackson Schuffelbein left for his study abroad trip in January, he didn’t think it would end in a global pandemic. He imagined a semester roaming the streets of Barcelona, but his dream was short-lived.

Main Photo by and photo of Jackson Schufflebein

“Before the virus, we could do anything we wanted,” he said.

This changed quickly, as Spain quickly became one of the first countries outside of China to be majorly affected by the virus. Things began to grow tenser at a rapid speed. 

Taylor Lea had been studying in Wellington, New Zealand on both a study abroad and internship program. She said studying abroad was the best decision of her life, despite her trip ending early.

“Before I had left, coronavirus was not a huge problem over on the island,” Lea said. “But there were concerns and precautions in terms of not spreading the disease elsewhere.”

Photo: Taylor Lea, New Zealand

The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted life around the globe, and its effect on higher education systems is still unfolding. Like many facing the ramifications of the pandemic, these ASU students were forced to pack up and fly home with no certainty of what would happen.

Schufflebein was studying abroad as a requirement for his global studies major, and his program was supposed to last for the duration of the spring semester while he completed both academic courses and a six-credit internship in Barcelona.

Lea, on the other hand, hoped she would gain a new perspective on the culture within the workplace by studying abroad in New Zealand.

Toward the end of their programs, as things became more severe with the virus, students were contacted almost daily with updates regarding international virus response as well as U.S. travel bans.

“I was definitely well aware of everything,” Schufflebein said, “I would say even more aware than most students in the U.S. at the time.”

In early March, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines to institutions of higher education to “consider postponing or canceling student foreign exchange programs” in all countries, not just those experiencing outbreaks.

Photo: Jackson Schufflebein, Barcelona

Once ASU officially canceled all global learning experiences, these students had no choice but to return home.

Schufflebein had plans to visit Portugal, Northern Spain, and Scotland for a program through the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU), however, all of these other trip plans were cut short due to the virus. He left Barcelona, flew to Denmark, then to London, where he spent the night in the airport before flying to Newark.

“Getting back to the US was very chaotic,” he said. “When I went through customs I had to be checked by the CDC for coronavirus symptoms due to where I was traveling from, although their check was not very thorough at all.”

After 36 hours of travel, he arrived back home in Columbus, Ohio where he began self-isolating.

Lea found out she was leaving on a Thursday and left that Saturday, “leaving was stressful, surreal and heartbreaking,” she said.

She was planning on staying and experiencing the program to the end but was forced to leave at the last-minute, as flights to the U.S. started getting canceled.

Study abroad program advisors says the pandemic should not affect credits transferring back to ASU. However, Schufflebein is uncertain about this because his six credit internship is no longer taking place.

Photo: Taylor Lea, New Zealand

As for Lea, she is still getting the fulfillment of her minor.

“If anything, it just didn’t give me the ideal experience in terms of learning in a new country,” she said.

Since returning to the states, Lea has worked with a counselor on coping with the new changes, which she says has been helping.

“Getting home has required me time to process and really reflect on everything,” She said. “You never know how serious something is until you’re forced out of the country due to a level four lockdown.”

Despite the shock of leaving so suddenly, she’s fond of the memories she made on her trip. “Overall, my experience was great until the last week,” she said.


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