In the spring of 2020, study abroad student Mia Farris frantically packed her bags and booked an emergency flight home from Grenoble, France, as she was among dozens of other Samford students who were ordered to return to the United States in the face of the daunting novel coronavirus.
“We didn’t know what was going on,” Farris said. “It was very stressful and frightening. I think I’ve mentally blocked it out of mind.”
Those days marked the beginning of an uncertain and unprecedented year for the Global engagement office. Assistant Director of Global Engagement Jill Fisse shared the effects of COVID-19 evacuation.
“Of course, we were disappointed, and the students were disappointed,” Fisse said. “We not only had students in London, but we also had students in France, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. However, we were able to work with the returning students to ensure continuity of the academic portions of their programs.”
Many study abroad programs were cancelled, but Fisse explained how the Office of Global Engagement used the time to improve all future study abroad experiences. These improvements include cheaper application fees, the new Go Farther Grant for students, and an improved system for faculty to submit international course proposals.
“Not sending students abroad afforded us the time to review our processes and procedures with a critical lens,” Fisse said. “We really want to improve accessibility to study abroad, ensuring that any student who wants the opportunity to study abroad can do so.”
Now, a year and an a half later, Samford has once again launched students across the world. Mia Farris never thought that she would get a second chance to study in France. This time around she is in Paris, and is one of 19 students currently abroad.
“I’m still awestruck that I’m even here,” Farris gushed. “Living somewhere with so much rich history and culture is amazing.I’m still in that honeymoon phase where everything is amazing and exciting.”
When Farris was originally approved to go abroad for the second time, the memory of being sent home last year weighed heavy on her mind. But as she approached her departure date, things began to change.
“When it got really close leading up, I started thinking about where I was interning and looking into my classes, and looking everything up on Google Maps at the street view and getting really excited. It took me a while to feel the excitement to be going, but once that set in, I could not wait,” Farris said.
Farris is interning for a fashion designer at her Parisian shop in Galerie Vivienne. Here, Farris practices her French as she runs errands, attaches tags to shirts and steams dresses, but over time, she will gain more responsibilities.
Although she’s able to study abroad, COVID-19 still impacts her experience. As an American, Farris carries her physical CDC vaccination card with her everywhere she goes, and is required to show it whenever she wants to enter public venues. Parisians, on the other hand, have a QR code on their phone that indicates their vaccination status. Farris experienced a stressful moment when rumors began circulating that France would no longer accept physical CDC cards and scrambled to get a QR code issued to her.
“Thankfully, my QR card came in by email and I haven’t had any problems doing that. But basically if you don’t have that QR code and your vaccination, it’s kind of hard to do anything,” Farris said.
Farris isn’t the only student coping with new protocols while abroad. At the Daniel House in London, students are subject to bilateral flow testing twice a week and weekend travel is restricted to countries on the “Green List” in accordance with UK guidance. In addition, all students are required to receive a vaccination to ensure the safest experience possible.
Despite the changes due to COVID-19, the Global Engagement office is confident that students will have an enjoyable study abroad experience.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to send students as I was this fall! It’s been so great hearing from them about the amazing experiences they are having,” Fisse said.
For more information, students can visit abroad.samford.edu or the Samford Abroad Fair in Ben Brown on Sept. 24 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.