Hundreds of language students at Queen's University could be facing a virtual year abroad.
French, Spanish and Portuguese students had been hoping to head off to various parts of Europe and South America in September to bolster their language skills.
However, Covid-19 could stop them in their tracks.
Charlie Allen, who studies Spanish and Portuguese, was supposed to be adventuring to Uruguay, but now his plans are in disarray.
"Uruguay is out of the picture. They share a border with Brazil which is rife with Covid-19."
Instead, Charlie is planning to head off to Spain and Portugal. However, current Foreign and Commonwealth Office guidelines advise against any non-essential travel to either of these countries.
This leaves students like Charlie in limbo. Queen's University says Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel advice provides the 'basis for all decisions' on years abroad.
Currently, FCO guidance advises "against all non-essential travel to France, Spain and Portugal... based on the current assessment of Covid-19 risks in the country."
If this current travel advice remains, Charlie and many other students will be facing a 'virtual year abroad.'
While Queen's University was unable to say exactly what this would mean for students, they referred Sunday Life to the University Council of Modern Languages.
The body says a virtual year abroad would provide "alternative opportunities for contact with the target language environment through shared digital resources and, where possible, remote/virtual interaction."
For Rebekah McFetridge, a Queen's French and Portuguese student, the thought of a virtual year abroad made her decide to scrap any plans to go to Portugal altogether. "I had my work placement sorted. I had my apartment. I had paid the first half of the rent and then all of a sudden Covid hit," Rebekah said.
Instead Rebekah was hoping to head to Montpelier in France to study at a university there. However, the new quarantine rules for travellers from France could ruin her plans.
"It's just insanely saddening to have your plans ruined again by something completely out of my control," she added.
"it's so difficult to try to plan anything when it could all change in a split second."
"I just don't want a virtual year abroad. I'm sceptical as to how useful it would be," Rebecca explained.
"If you're just sat in your bedroom with the possibility of Google Translate at your fingertips, you're not forced to do the work yourself."
However, even those students dodging the strict travel rules for Spain, France and Portugal could still face a year behind a laptop screen back in the UK.
Nadia Roumane, having originally planned to go to Peru, had her plans swiftly changed.
She soon changed her plans, to instead head to France to be a language assistant in a school there.
Whilst Nadia had been hopeful, the new FCO advice is making her question what will happen now.
"I'm not really sure what's going to happen, we're hoping it'll change again before we go as we still have over a month to go."
"We're all a bit stressed at the moment I think but just hope it change," Nadia added.
"The year abroad is the pinnacle of the degree. It makes you so much better in your language skills. The fact that it's in jeopardy is so frustrating. How am I supposed to do a year abroad in my room?"
While a virtual year abroad may be unappealing, students could be faced with no other choice but to accept it.
"We can't graduate if we haven't done some form of a year abroad," said Jon Nield, a French student at Queen's University.
Jon had been planning to go to Toulouse, on a similar language assistant scheme to his classmate, Nadia.
However, the 66% increase in coronavirus cases in less than a week in France is making this unlikely.
"Instead, a virtual year would be awful," Jon said. "There would be some cultural lessons so it would be studying books in French or learning a bit about French politics.
"I think that's a terrible idea. I would do it reluctantly."
In response, a Queen's University spokesperson said: "Our first priority is the safety and wellbeing of our students. The university aims to facilitate students completing international study or work placements in a manner that is enriching and safe.
"As a result of the ongoing and ever-changing uncertainties around international travel due to the pandemic, the university has identified and is exploring course-specific contingency options for students who are due to undertake an international study or work placement for the first semester or full academic year in 2020-21."
For language learners, this offers little comfort.
"It would be really rubbish. You are not getting out there meeting friends, getting the experience," Charlie said. "I think the whole point of the year abroad is to immerse yourself in the language."
Students are hoping the coming weeks will give them an answer as to what country they will be studying in just a month's time.