Study abroad rates climb slowly after COVID-19 pandemic

Executive Director of International Programs, Robin Craggs, in the International Programs Office in Johnson Hall at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 23, 2023. Talia Goddard/The Occidental

Students are slowly studying abroad again, according to Robin Craggs, the executive director of the International Programs Office (IPO) who said the rate of students studying abroad dropped in recent years due to COVID-19. The IPO’s five year report (2018-2023) shows that numbers dropped from 221 to 16 between 2019 to 2021.

“Those upperclass students that you first meet when you’re a student had gone abroad,” Craggs said. “Not that many upperclassmen have gone abroad yet.”

According to Craggs, a number of students who went abroad in Spring 2020 had to be evacuated, and none went abroad in Summer 2020 as all programs were shut down. Even now IPO and the world is still catching up from COVID-19, Craggs said.

Craggs said that studying abroad was common at Occidental prior to the pandemic and IPO is slowly building their way back. According to the IPO report, the number of students studying abroad has slowly been increasing since the 2021-2022 school year, going from 16 students to 95 to 145. Craggs said she predicts numbers this year will exceed 255.

“We’re just creeping back up out of this sad canyon,” Craggs said. “I’m excited to help us get back on track.”

Thank you cards in the International Programs Office in Johnson Hall at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 23, 2023. Talia Goddard/The Occidental

Perla Duran (junior), an economics major currently abroad in South Korea, said she knew she wanted to study abroad before coming to college.

“For my first semester ever at [Occidental], I went to all the info sessions that IPO put on because I was really curious,” Duran said. “I realized I was too early but it was fine because it was nice to know the information beforehand.”

According to Duran, she had originally wanted to go to China but applications had closed by the time she went to apply. Duran said she talked to economics professor Jesse Mora who advised her to go to South Korea as she had done previous research for her economics major on the country.

Duran said she is currently enrolled in the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). Duran said she loves that the college works with programs in other countries.

“I don’t think that you would have a great experience if you were just out on your own with no support system,” Duran said.

Duran said she was glad that the program allowed her to learn more about South Korea’s historical background. Duran said she had not traveled outside of the US or the Dominican Republic, where she was born, prior to studying abroad.

“It’s really nice to be in a completely different continent, in a completely different country experiencing new things,” Duran said. “I think my favorite aspect is meeting new people from different parts of the world.”

Sara Masaki (junior) recently submitted her application to study abroad in Vietnam under the SIT program. She said although fewer people are studying abroad than before the pandemic, it did not affect her decision.

“I was set on studying abroad in college since before COVID,” Masaki said. “I don’t think COVID will affect my study abroad.”

Sara Masaki (junior) outside the Cooler at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 20, 2023. Talia Goddard/The Occidental

Similar to Masaki, Simon Askren (junior) said he applied to go to Jordan with the SIT program. Askren said it is unfortunate that he spent his first year at Occidental on Zoom, but the time abroad will make up for it.

“I decided to study abroad last Spring when SIT came to talk about their program on the quad,” Askren said. “I looked into their programs they had further and found the one that was right for me.”

Askren said he had planned to study abroad in Florence in Fall 2022 and thought he lost his opportunity due to COVID-19.

“When I first arrived at Oxy I didn’t think that I would study abroad anymore,” Askren said. “I decided that [studying abroad] would be a useful personal and academic experience despite the fact that I have spent relatively little time on a college campus.”

Simon Askren (junior) outside the Tiger Cooler at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 20, 2023. Talia Goddard/The Occidental

According to Craggs, their assessment shows students making growth and advancements in their confidence, global perspectives, independence and their major field, all of which are connected to Occidental’s mission.

Studying abroad also sets you apart from other applicants for life after Occidental, Craggs said.

“Actually having the opportunity to do that in another setting, and be put into immersive situations where you get to negotiate across cultures and express yourself in another language or understand the perspective of people who are profoundly different from you, is a very growth-enhancing experience,” Craggs said.

Contact Reyan Nguy at


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