People all over the world are unpredictably affected by the newest Coronavirus and its implications.
More specifically, abroad students are finding themselves being sent home from their study programs. Having to cancel personal travel, and living in the uncertainty of how their semesters in Europe will end.
Coronavirus started as a blip on the radar of students preparing to embark on a four-month journey to study in Europe.
The first mysterious case emerged in Wuhan, China on December 31st, 2019. And millions of American university students packed their bags and flew to another hemisphere without any worry of this ‘random’ flu discovered so far away.
Fast forward to January 30th, 2020- just one month later- and the outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Though COVID-19 has symptoms paralleling that of the common flu (cough, fever, shortness of breath). And only has a death rate of 3.4%, the virus has uncontrollably spread. The shutdown travel has students living in Europe wondering, what now?
The countries currently most dangerous to travel to are China, with a whopping 80,703 cases. Italy, South Korea, Iran, and France are also a threat. But perhaps the most alarming aspect of this virus is how quickly it spreads.
Similar to other contagious viruses, COVID-19 spreads by human-to-human contact. Or by coming into contact with respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Thus, the increases in cases in countries with patients concentrated in quarantined areas are skyrocketing. Just within the last 24 hours, Italy has 1,492 new cases and 250 new deaths.
Alex, a Junior at the University of Michigan, had been studying abroad in Rome for just four weeks before Italy was declared a Level 3 Travel Advisory by the US State Department.
Almost immediately after Alex’s program was canceled and his home institution called for all students enrolled in programs in Italy to return to the US. This came as a shock to Alex and other students in his program, as Rome itself was not an area with many Coronavirus cases.
“Almost no one was wearing masks, even when we visited the Vatican the day after the announcement. It all felt so surreal that we were really being sent home, even though Rome hadn’t changed at all,” he recalls.
Many students studying in Italy were feeling similarly. Other universities like Syracuse and Villanova had pulled their students from Europe before programs abroad had even canceled themselves.
The next steps in these types of situations vary from school to school. But one thing is for sure: many students are left financially and academically devastated by abroad programs being abruptly canceled.
For Alex’s specific program in Rome, students will be finishing the semester through online courses. And will receive no compensation for the canceled $15,000 program. The epidemic has other serious implications such as economic recessions and discrimination towards Asian people. Abroad students’ pockets have certainly felt the blow of this unpredictable virus.
Similarly, several typically cheap airlines used by many American students studying abroad. Such as Ryanair and EasyJet, have not changed their “no cancellation of flights after 24 hours of booking” policy.
This means that students who had flights to now untravelable regions like Italy cannot get money back from canceled travel due to the rapidly escalating virus outbreak.
Shannon, a Junior at American University, had dropped $450 of her own money on flights and $150 on housing for an unforgettable April spring break trip in Amalfi, Italy. Now, with Italy at an overall Level 3 Advisory and some parts at a Level 4, she and her group have been forced to cancel.
“When I contacted the airline about possibly getting some of my money back given the sudden situation, they refused to refund me. Now, I’m out $600, and don’t know if I should cancel other trips I had planned just in case,” Shannon said.
Unfortunately, many students find themselves in a similar predicament: should they not take the risk of traveling at all outside their home country?
Georgetown Junior Ally and her parents have already considered the option of canceling all travel going forward. Her program is in Copenhagen, Denmark, a country that has a notoriously strong health care system. And only 35 cases on COVID-19 with none actually in Copenhagen.
Though Ally is most likely in one of the safest areas of Europe, her parents fear that if she were to leave for a weekend trip she would not be able to return.
“People all over Europe are in busy airports and then getting on planes with 400 plus people. My parents are just worried that my plane will land. Someone will have a fever, and all 400 of us will be quarantined or denied entry to Denmark.”
In situations like this, many parents are struggling to figure out how to best keep their kids safe while they’re living across the world. Some students’ parents are preemptively pulling them from their programs. Others aren’t as concerned about this virus that seems to only put infants and the elderly in danger.
Nonetheless, the official advice from the World Health Organization as of now is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Wear a mask only if you are feeling sick, and self-quarantine if you feel sick or have traveled to Italy, Iran, South Korea, or China. However, different students are dealing with this unprecedented virus, the future of existing abroad programs is unknown.