COVID-19 outbreak forces study abroad students home

Over two dozen students may be returning to MU after travel warning from CDC.
MU canceled all study abroad trips to Italy following the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. | Photo courtesy of the Office of the Chancellor.

With the latest novel coronavirus scare, the Italy study abroad program at MU and colleges across the U.S. were canceled due to concern of the virus spreading to the students abroad.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced a level three travel warning in Italy, deterring any nonessential travel to and from the country — making Italy the fourth country with a travel warning due to COVID-19. Because of this warning from the CDC, many colleges including MU have been forced to cancel spring and summer study abroad programs to affected countries.

In an email sent out on March 9, Chancellor Alexander Cartwright said the university has decided to cancel study abroad trips in China, Italy and South Korea, as well as university-related travel to these countries. Furthermore, the email said the university will assess whether or not to allow travel for other countries on a case-by-case basis, and “will continue to monitor these situations closely.”

Christian Basi, MU News Bureau spokesperson, expressed the university’s policy concerning the study abroad program.

“Our policy is that we do not allow students to participate in study abroad programs in countries where there is a level three warning by the CDC,” Basi said. “Right now that warning is in place and until that level drops, our ban will remain in place.”

Ariana Santilli, a junior at MU, is studying at Florence University and noted the grim change in atmosphere in Venice, one of the cities being largely affected.

Santilli said she has seen the condition of the country and the shift in atmosphere in the north, but because she isn’t studying with a university sponsored program has decided to stay for the duration of the semester.

"They started to quarantine in Venice," Santilli said in an interview with KOMU. "Everyone is in masks and there were gates and police officers everywhere. Even the weather got gloomy and cloudy that day. It was so different from the Venice I experienced just 24 hours before that."

At nearby Northwest Missouri State University, sophomore Elizabeth Skelly was supposed to study in Italy until May 16, but due to the outbreak had to return March 6, months earlier than expected. Skelly spoke on the atmosphere both with her fellow study abroad students and in Italy.

“[Before the quarantine] everyone was just going on with their normal lives,” Skelly said. “We didn’t really worry about being sent home. We were just doing our classes normally and having our normal lives. ... There weren't really any big checks or anything because Rome had two cases at the time … they went to the hospital, and everything was fine and it didn’t spread.”

Skelly and the other study abroad students were shocked to hear the news that they were going to have to leave the Saturday before she departed.

“I read the email and couldn’t even think it was real. … My roommates and I all left our rooms and sat in the living room and just could not believe what was happening,” Skelly said. “I just can’t even imagine leaving. I [didn’t] want to go to sleep because I [didn’t] want to miss out on anything.”

MU instructor Katherine Hagely had a personal trip to Italy with her family planned, but recently had to cancel. Although she canceled her trip, she is not concerned much about the virus itself.

“Anything that we don’t know a lot about is dangerous … but my perception of it seems like it’s something comparable to the flu, but we don’t have a vaccine for it,” Hagely said. “It seems like for those certain classes, it’s very dangerous but for most people it’s not.”

Hagely said for older people and those with a weaker immune system the pandemic is concerning. Although she is not worried about contracting the disease herself, she is concerned about the response of the U.S. federal government to the virus.

“The virus itself doesn’t concern us quite as much as being able to get back home. If we were in Italy and then [the U.S. government] made some decision that everyone coming from Italy regardless of where you were, you are going to have to sit and be quarantined for two weeks [that would be concerning],” Hagely said. “I was more concerned with a policy from our government than what the Italians were doing.”

Hagely said when she found out that the trip was going to have to be canceled, her “stomach fell to her shoes.”

“We’ve been planning this [trip] for a couple of years. I think when [the decision we made] finally reached that point we all just felt sick,” Hagely said.

According to the university, a little over two dozen students were in Italy through an MU program and the university is currently “work[ing] with them individually to find the option that best meets their needs.”

Edited by Alex Fulton |

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