Study Abroad Office provides new COVID-safety programs to university students

Stephen Gangi, Contributing Writer

Recent outbreaks in the COVID-19 pandemic have raised the question of whether traveling internationally is a feasible possibility anymore. The university leaders, alongside Prato campus Dean of Students, Kevin Murphy, have been working to find answers to each question and have shared their plans to safely revamp the study abroad program to protect students who chose to participate.

The University of New Haven has offered a study abroad program in Prato, Italy since the fall of 2012. Participation in the program was growing steadily until the pandemic struck and international travel was restricted, shutting down the program until its reopening this semester.

One prospective study abroad student, Jada Mirabelle, junior communication major said, “This past fall semester, I was considering studying abroad at our Prato campus in Italy but decided not to because of COVID. I didn’t know if it would be entirely safe to study abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The university’s home campus has observed COVID-19 guidelines to protect each student under its care. These policies and regulations have also been implemented abroad.

Students interested in traveling abroad should ensure they complete each requirement implemented by the campus COVID Task Force prior to submitting the online application. These guidelines include social distancing inside campus buildings, with a facial covering inside classrooms and hallways, in addition to proof of vaccination and receiving booster shots that are available in-person. Although the main campus no longer requires face coverings inside buildings, it is still mandated in Italy, where COVID-19 cases have slightly increased to 70,000 on average after decreasing from 180,000-54,000.

Acquiring a mandated visa has also become slightly more difficult, though the university is willing to assist in the process, said Murphy during a virtual interest meeting for the program.

Murphy also responded to questions regarding the difference between the study abroad program offered now versus what it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and if any differences in activities have been made. “Like every university,” he said, “we spent a lot of time writing protocols and guidelines and we reopened to a record number of students.”

We follow very similar protocols to the main campus,” he also said. “We have had four cases of COVID in the semester so far. Mask wearing inside the classroom is the Italian Law. If anything has changed it’s that we have gotten better at online learning. We are back to normal out here.”

In order to further promote the program, Murphy has been working with university students to spread information regarding activities and events. “You get three things from studying abroad: personal, professional, and academic development,” he said.

In efforts to ramp up the program once again, incentives have been offered to students, including weekend excursions to nearby museums, shops and cities in Florence and Prato, where no additional fees are charged. Guided tours are also directed by Murphy, while the possibility of having relatives visit the weekly sports events hosted outside the residential halls on campus.

The university also offers assistance to all family members trying to find reasonable hotel rooms and restaurants in the area, such as with a university-sponsored Parto family Facebook page. A weeklong spring break is also offered each semester, which allows students to enjoy their free time.

These efforts have been relatively successful this semester, with a record 100 students currently overseas. Those who are interested in the study abroad program have until April 29 to register for the fall semester. The deadline for the 2023 spring semester is scheduled for Oct. 28.