Our Approach to Studying Abroad Safely Amid the Omicron Variant: A Message from the SFS President
SFS continues to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic. As concerns mount in response to the transmissibility of the Omicron variant, I’d like to take a moment to share with you our philosophy and approach on how we operate under these rapidly changing conditions.
Let’s state the obvious: we’re all weary of COVID-19 in any form and the tragic toll that it has taken through death and serious illness. Even if you have been fortunate enough that family or friends have not contracted the disease, we have been living our lives constrained by necessary but burdensome protocols: vaccinations, boosters, masks, social distancing, disruptions to daily routines and relationships, and plans for being on campus or traveling thwarted or dashed entirely.
However, our weariness over the constraints imposed by COVID-19 is not a reason to let down our guard or fail to observe policies and protocols that we know are effective in protecting ourselves and others from contracting it. Vigilance is key.
We believe that the most reasonable and workable approach to life in the time of COVID-19 is to view it as a condition that will be with us for the foreseeable future and to plan and follow protocols that minimize risk, while permitting activities that can be carried out safely. There is no zero-risk option.
In the spring of 2020, as the first wave of COVID-19 hit and unease gave way to panic, we safely and expeditiously returned 227 students from our ten centers around the world. Even in a pre-COVID-19 year, SFS has detailed risk management plans in place for each center and its activities. We regularly review, edit, and improve these plans and in the event of an incident, follow them. This era of COVID-19 is no exception. As new variants emerge and as we learn more about them, we make operational adjustments based on the latest reliable information. We are continuously reviewing the risks posed to our students, staff, and communities across the globe.
SFS programs are designed to operate in a cohort system. While certainly not our preference, we can minimize our interaction and exposure to anyone outside the student, faculty, and staff at our centers in times of high risk. Our field excursions and research can be adjusted to do the same. All SFS staff interacting with students are fully vaccinated, wear masks, and observe social distancing. SFS is a “high context” organization, with frequent communication and sharing of information regarding best practices, protocols, and procedures should someone contract COVID. While no one can say with certainty that a breakthrough case will not occur, we know that the odds are smaller when all protocols are followed meticulously. Because all students and staff are vaccinated, we are also doing all that we can to increase the likelihood that even a positive case be as mild as possible.
We can speculate endlessly on “what if” scenarios and, to a certain extent, that is part of our approach: to project situations and determine how we will respond. We expect, as in the US, that over the course of a semester some conditions will change at each of our centers that may require us to adapt. What we will not do is weaken our health and safety protocols, even if conditions appear to be improving. It is our primary goal that students return home in good health and with a transformative experience at our centers in some of the most remarkable locations on earth.
While we look forward to a time when COVID-19 will no longer disrupt our lives, we remain vigilant, adaptable, resilient, and above all, committed to providing students with a safe and secure experience of a lifetime. Thank you for placing your trust in us.