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Monday, January 24, 2022

UF exchange students navigate their temporary international homes amid COVID-19

study abroad
study abroad

Callie Sellers hates rolled meats, but sausage made in Scotland is the exception.

Scottish sausage rolls, meat-filled Scotch pies and steak pies are some dishes the 20 year old said she loves. She looks forward to trying haggis, a traditional meal made of minced sheep liver and seasoned with nutmeg.

The homemade meals and hospitality are daily reminders that studying abroad amid COVID-19 was worthwhile.

About 20 UF students are abroad this semester in the U.K., Denmark, Ireland and South Korea, down from 408 students last Fall. Despite COVID-19 numbers and quarantine mandates, UF students in international exchange programs said they’ve found solace in foreign countries and would rather be abroad.

Sellers, a UF political science and international studies junior, is an exchange student at the University of Glasgow in Scotland and plans to stay for the full school year.

Due to COVID-19 delays in the Scotland education system, Sellers had one month to obtain a U.K. student visa and paid about $2,000 in fees to expedite a four-week process into seven days.

“I left within 39 hours of receiving my visa,” she said, “it was such a whirlwind experience.”

When Callie Sellers stepped foot off the plane and onto Scottish soil on Aug 31, a taxi driver crammed her two bags and her backpack in the trunk, sped to her dorm, and dropped her off to quarantine. 

A thermometer, mattress topper, toilet bowl cleaner and face masks were included in her mandatory two-week stay.

Outside of her dorm, restrictions tightened and there’s a chance she won’t be home for Christmas, she said.

A recent outbreak at the University of Glasgow resulted in 124 positive cases, forcing 600 students to self-isolate and avoid bars and restaurants. To compensate, they received £50, or $64.43, to encourage ordering in and a month of free rent, she said.

“I was so amazed,” she said. “You're giving me money for food? O.K., go for it.”

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Masks are required indoors and on public transportation, but not outdoors. They offer no benefits outdoors unless in crowded spaces, according to the government website.

Sellers took a 30 minute rail car to Stirling, Scotland, last weekend where she visited Stirling Castle, the key to the kingdom of Scotland. Later that day, she walked to Darnley Coffee House, where she enjoyed a Victorian plum and lavender cordial, a sparkling water drink infused with lavender and plum. Scotland’s charm has made her travel worthwhile, she said.

“I do not regret a thing,” Sellers said. “I'm so happy I'm here.”

Juliet Patterson, a 20-year-old UF business administration senior, is studying at Korea University, in Seoul, South Korea.

On her 17-hour trip Aug. 8, passengers sat in every other seat and wore masks during the flight, she said. Upon arriving, she downloaded a symptom tracking app and quarantined in a one-bedroom studio apartment for two weeks. 

“I wanted to pull my hair out because I was so bored,” she said. “It felt like being in prison.”

Patterson’s quarantine meals consisted of frozen burgers, rice bowls and ramen from 7-Eleven. She vowed to never eat 7-Eleven again.

“It was nice when I was finally free, and I could explore the new country that I was in,” she said.

After quarantine, she traveled to her first bathhouse and visited a desolate Gyeongbbukgung palace. 

While spas and restaurants are open, “nolaebang” or karaoke rooms are not. In addition, masks are mandatory indoors and outdoors.

Patterson said she would stop at nothing to study abroad before she graduated and happily accomplished that goal.

“I really appreciate being able to come here even with all the craziness happening,” she said. “It's really just an incredible experience, and I'd recommend anybody to do it.”

Jill Ranaivoson, the associate director of UF study abroad services, said students had to wait until the last minute to determine if it was safe to travel.

“The students that went abroad this Fall are definitely fighters, they wanted this experience so bad and I'm glad we were able to make it happen for them,” she said.

Sharon Brown, the executive assistant of study abroad services, helped organize the Virtual Fall Study Abroad Fair on Sept. 28. and admits COVID-19 has led some trips to cancel like the College of Business trip in Paris and UF in Ethiopia as well as travel restrictions. Even so, she remains hopeful.

“This is the fair that usually sets up Spring and Summer travel,” Brown said. “We're really trying to keep opportunities available for students.”

The world was thrown a curveball, she said, but students still desire to travel.

“It definitely upended the field of international education,” she said. “We're on the cusp of so much in terms of globalization and student mobility, but I don't think it's the end.”

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