Student exchange programs cautiously resume after COVID-19 disruption, but some delays persist

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Shana Imfeld has been told to prepare for some bad news regarding her hopes of doing an exchange program in Australia.

With COVID-19 travel restrictions making it difficult to access Australia even for some of its own citizens last year, the 16-year-old Swiss was prepared for an experience somewhere closer to home in Europe.

But three weeks ago Shana arrived in Rockhampton, central Queensland, as part of the first cohort of Rotary Youth Exchange students to return to Australia since the pandemic began.

Shana said she was delighted to reach her destination through the scheme, one of many to resume in recent weeks across the country.

“It’s totally amazing and it’s also kind of weird because… so many new things are coming my way,” Shana said.

“I’m having a great time so far.”

Exchange programs across Australia were disrupted when COVID-19 created uncertainty over international travel.

Universities, farms and high schools all run programs that send students abroad to experience different cultures and bring their international counterparts to experience Australia. All these programs had to be suspended.

“A lot of kids have missed the opportunity because they can’t get out when they turn 18,” said Heather Sugget, Rotary Youth Exchange president for District 9506, who brought Shana and four more students in Queensland this year.

But while some programs have recently resumed, others are still in stasis.

WA schools not yet allowing exchange students

WA’s education department hasn’t started accepting applications from exchange students to join its classrooms, which means Rotary students won’t return to the state until July 2023.

“Arrangements have begun to resume student exchange programs in Western Australia as soon as possible, in a safe way and based on current health advice,” said Lisa Rodgers, chief executive of the education department. from WA.

Outgoing exchanges will resume even later, in July 2024.

Linda Bilney, WA Southern District chairperson for Rotary Youth Exchange and vice-president of the national program, said there were long delays in issuing passports and visas.

“And even those overseas who trade to the east, there have been delays,” she said.

Ms Bilney said the merger of Rotary branches in WA was also a factor in the delay in that state.

She said some students from eastern states, who should have arrived in mid-July, had been forced to postpone the start of their exchange due to visa delays.

Sneha Karri feared missing a rally, as some of his peers did.(Provided: Sneha Karri)

Exchange programs for university students have also resumed in recent weeks.

Sneha Karri, a Korean studies and international relations student at the University of Sydney, recently started an exchange program at Seoul National University in South Korea.

His two previous swap requests failed due to COVID-19 travel bans.

“Until I got on the plane, I didn’t fully accept that I was going overseas because I was like, ‘Oh, you know, it’s been delayed three times,'” said Mrs Karri.

“I really doubted it at one point.”

Ms. Karri is in South Korea on a Colombo New Plan scholarship through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Although she was able to fulfill her hopes of studying abroad, she said some of her peers who graduated during the pandemic did not succeed.

Sneha Karri stands on a springboard over a pond wearing a mask and holding an umbrella in front of a garden.
Sneha Karri at the Cheonggyecheon Stream in South Korea.(Provided: Sneha Karri)

Virtual programs created during the pandemic

The University of Sydney said it had created new “global experiences” virtually for students who were unable to travel in 2020 and 2021.

More than 2,800 students participated in these programs before the university resumed its exchange program and sent 350 students abroad in June this year.

“We are also seeing renewed interest in semester exchanges, with over 450 students studying abroad in semester 2, 2022, and over 650 applications for the exchange in semester 1, 2023,” a doorman said. -word of the university.

Other schools, such as Curtin University in Perth, are preparing to resume their programs this semester.

International Rural Exchange has also relaunched exchange programs for agricultural placements.

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