Student Voices: The Impact of the COVID-19 on Study Abroad


  • Many expressed frustration with communication from institutions
    • Students discussed losing trust in their institution when communication was infrequent or unclear
  • Many students made decisions to return home based on what their peers did
  • Most students expressed an interest in traveling abroad again in the near future

The impacts of the global pandemic, COVID-19, on international student mobility can not be overstated.

  • A recent survey by Student Universe found that 79% of the surveyed students had to cancel or delay a planned trip because of the virus. Of those students, 64.5% are still planning to take their trip within the next year.
  • A survey by The Institute of International Education found that 37% of institutions indicated that information about COVID‐19 is available on their website.  Several colleges and universities have created specific webpages regarding the outbreak and the response on campus.
  • A survey from IDP Connect found that 69% of international students with current offers from universities surveyed expect to commence their studies as planned, although they recognize there may be delays. Of those students, half (54%) were only willing to defer up to 12 months or less before changing their plans or exploring other study options.

In support of our mission to engage #everystudent in global opportunities, Via TRM  teamed up with OffWeGo to co-host a student dialogue on Friday, April 24th, with college students whose study abroad experience was impacted by the global pandemic.

Our goal was to bring students together to share their experiences, to listen, and to circle back and share insights with international educators. We structured the conversation in the World Café style which aims to engage all attendees through small breakout rooms guided by specific questions.

To create space for a candid, honest conversation, the event was hosted on the condition of anonymity. Students did, however, agree to us sharing out key trends and themes that emerged. 

Who attended? 

  • 17 undergraduate students from 10 different colleges and universities spread across the U.S.

How were they impacted by COVID-19? 

  • 16 were abroad and had to return early
  • 1 had their program canceled prior to departure

Where were they studying abroad? 

  • Students who joined the call studied abroad in a number of different locations, including:
    • England
    • Australia
    • Kenya
    • Austria
    • Australia
    • France
    • The United Kingdom

Trends Identified

Communication Challenges

Throughout the breakout sessions, students discussed the challenges with communication during their time abroad. Although they were understanding and identified the uniqueness of the situation, they also discussed the additional stress they faced due to a lack of clear, directive communication from their campuses.

  • Multiple sources and mixed messages
    • “We were getting emails from the institution, emails from the study abroad office, and from our host. And they were telling us different things.”
  • Decisions and directives seemed unclear
  • “Liability emails”
    • Several students talked about a “liability email” that they received from their institution. They said that the email essentially told them they could stay in-country with the evolving situation or they could return home. It didn’t give them direction, but rather said that the choice was theirs to make and they’d be responsible for the consequences of their decisions. For several students, this was a moment when they lost trust in the institution. After that, they were less interested in what the school wrote because they didn’t feel like the school had their best interest in mind.
  • Miscommunication in itineraries/dates/times
  • U.S. Government communication
    • Students said the information coming from the U.S. government was confusing. They weren’t sure what the official messages were and didn’t know where to go for information.

Students’ Behavior

  • Many students admitted to not “taking things seriously” at the onset of the pandemic
  • Many students still traveled in their host country (and to nearby countries) even up to the day before they boarded flights home

Influence/Support of Peers & Parents 

  • Many said that they were in communication with friends on study abroad (on their program or other) about staying or returning home and made final decisions based on what their friends were doing
  • Almost all discussed being in constant communication with family and support networks back in the U.S. throughout the process

Students Suggestions

  • Clarity around crisis communication. “We felt like they didn’t really have a plan in place.”
  • Provide multiple ways of getting in touch. Several students discussed not being able to get in touch with their campus through email and wanted easier ways of getting in touch quickly.

We want to ask the international education community: 

  • How has your office captured feedback from students after this spring?
  • Are there changes you’re putting in place based on this feedback?

 About us

Via TRM was founded with the mission of engaging #everystudent in global opportunities. To achieve this mission, we seek to infuse student voice into the software solutions we provide to our Clients worldwide. And we know from our Clients in higher education, that their success is contingent upon their ability to engage and support their target audience – students.

OffWeGo is a student-centric risk management solution, increasing travel safety adherence in international education. Our mission is to transform needed student security behaviors from “have to” to “want to,” by applying social interaction, comparison, and gamification principles. To achieve this, OffWeGo prioritizes the student traveler, and ultimately reports needed safety data to the appropriate program administrator.

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