Campus, Coronavirus, News

Study abroad students sent home amid COVID-19 outbreak

Boston University’s study abroad programs were canceled in all European cities, including Paris, after the Centers for Disease Control issued a travel ban for the continent on March 11. Students in the programs say the transition to remote classes has been difficult and that BU could be more supportive during the adjustment. AUSMA PALMER/ DFP FILE

All study abroad programs were canceled by Boston University Global Programs in light of the global coronavirus outbreak. Students will continue courses and fulfill internship credits remotely, according to an email from Executive Director of Study Abroad Gareth McFeely.

Students in programs from Ecuador to Switzerland have been told to move out and go home over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, halting all university-sponsored international residency.

All students returning from abroad programs and international trips over spring break were told not to return to campus and to self-quarantine in their permanent residences for 14 days. Separate emails, all signed by McFeely, were sent on separate days depending on when the specific study abroad program’s residential portion was canceled.

Programs in Shanghai were canceled on Jan. 27, in time for affected students to have the option to come back to Boston and begin courses. But as numbers fell in China, they rose in Massachusetts. Six weeks later, those students weren’t allowed on campus, either.

Jake Kaplow, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, expected to study in Shanghai this semester. He said he began to worry about coronavirus disrupting his abroad program in mid-January, but did not expect it to send him home from Boston to L.A.

“As coronavirus progressed, it just got very stressful because there were a lot of unknowns,” Kaplow said. “And I know that that was shared by everyone in the world.”

Caution in the U.S. ramped up as positive cases of COVID-19 became more frequent. It was not until March 11 that universities began announcing their transitions to online learning.

After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a Level 3 “Avoid Nonessential Travel” ban for Europe, also on March 11, the residential portions of all programs in the designated countries were discontinued and courses were moved online.

Michael Howes, a sophomore in the College of Engineering, was studying in Grenoble, France before returning to his home in Weymouth shortly after President Donald Trump announced a future ban on travel by non-American citizens from Europe.

“Our program got canceled like five hours after that,” Howes said. “We all knew it was coming, we all had prepared for it, it just stinks that it’s over.”

An email from McFeely on March 11 canceled the residential portions of BU-sponsored study abroad programs in Paris, Grenoble, Geneva, Switzerland and Dresden, Germany.

Howes said students are concerned about the different time zones and how live classes will work for those hours ahead or behind. He said online classes have not started in the Grenoble program yet, although one is planned to begin Tuesday.

“What’s annoying is classes,” Howes said. “Our classes have yet to start, which I’m not complaining about, but I will be when we go longer into the summer.”

Kaplow had his own issues with classes when adjusting in January, and wants to see more from BU in helping students adjust now.

“I really underestimated how much of an impact [moving to campus late] would have on my academics,” Kaplow said. “I don’t need [BU] to hold my hand, but I would have appreciated them acknowledging that this is a very difficult situation.”

The U.K. was ultimately included in the ban on March 13 after an exclusion by the CDC and president had allowed travel, and an email was sent to BU students in London on that day stating that they were expected to vacate by March 20 and not return to campus.

Sabrina Schnurr, a junior in CAS and the College of Communication, said she was already leaving London for her home in New Jersey when the email was sent.

“In the beginning of March … they emailed us basically saying we had a choice to go home and finish our classes remotely or to stay,” Schnurr said.“The majority of us pretty much assumed that they were going to eventually push us out.”

Alison Campbell, director of study abroad for London, sent an email to all students in the program on March 5 regarding an email the day before giving residents the option to leave the U.K.

“You may not stay in London and not go to your internship and/or not go to class/seminars,” Campbell wrote. “If you are very concerned about going to your internship and do not want to go then then the option is to leave London but continue the academic work to earn credits remotely.”

Travel restrictions continued to tighten as abroad programs were canceled and students found their trips home increasingly monitored or forbidden.

Howes said moving out was not only stressful for international students unable to go to either campus or their home, but also those reliant on the university for their travel back from abroad.

“Some others who flew through Boston University… had a very hard time scheduling their flights,” Howes said. “They had to wait for a travel agent to secure them a flight, which is basically out of their control.”

Although students that were abroad will not continue their internships remotely, every student will be able to finish the credits for their remaining courses and internship seminars, according to an email from Phil Cable, assistant director of student support and operations for Study Abroad London. Remote classes have not yet begun, according to Schnurr.

Schnurr was interning at a PR firm in London and said the firm was understanding about the situation surrounding her having to return home. She said while she won’t be able to continue her internship remotely, the credits will be replaced with an assignment.

“They are making us do a kind of separate research assignment… to pick up those credits,” Schnurr said. “Nobody’s working remotely or anything, that part is just over and they’re going to come up with a new kind of assignment.”

Emails from administrators of the Los Angeles and Europe programs reflect the same urgency to calm fears of credits and graduation.

Programs in Sydney and New Zealand were canceled as late as March 17, almost a week after the university announced classes would go online until April 13.

Oksana Chubrikova, a junior in the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, was studying Auckland, New Zealand until last week and said she felt guilty for living normally during the uncertainty.

“We were still on campus going to classes and doing our internships,” Chubikovra said. “It felt just like normal life, but we were very separated from the rest of the world.”

She said she was impressed by BU’s communication in the process but is still unsure of what will happen to her internship.

“I’m in contact with my supervisor back in Auckland about doing some kind of remote research project,” Chubrikova said, “but I’m really in the works of trying to figure out how to continue it.”

Schnurr said she wishes they had been told to go home, not just given the option, earlier than they were to save people money and make travel more convenient.

“I definitely think it was the right choice considering how quickly things escalated in the past week,” Schnurr said. “I think they should have sent us home earlier, honestly.”

Chubrikova said this can be a blessing in disguise for those put down by having to come home.

“It’s more time to spend with your family and time to slow down,” Chubrikova said. “I loved having time in New Zealand and I wish I could have stayed there for longer, but this is just the way it is right now.”

Despite the hardships coronavirus has caused them so far, everyone agreed BU was right to pull their programs.

Howes said it was a good decision by the university, no matter how disappointing.

“At the end of the day, it’s the safest thing for us to do,” Howes said. “Everyone just has to stay safe and play their part.”

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