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Study abroad trips canceled due to Coronavirus

Students affected financially over canceled study abroad trips

March 6, 2020

Two study abroad programs scheduled for spring break have been canceled due to confirmed Coronavirus cases in the destination areas, according to NKU Education Abroad officials. 

President Ashish Vaidya, in conjunction with NKU’s Coronavirus preparedness team, made the decision to cancel the programs “Art in Spain” and “Business in Prague” on Wednesday, and participating students were notified that day via email. “Storytelling Through Media in Guatemala” was not cancelled, but students were given the option to back out with a full refund.

Students that are no longer participating in the programs will soon receive a full refund of fees, according to Education Abroad Assistant Director Michelle Melish.

The news of the cancellation was announced two days prior to students leaving for the airport. According to Melish, the abrupt withdrawal is explained by the nature of epidemics. 

“The situation changes everyday,” Melish said. “Countries that might have been safe one day might not have been safe the next day.”

The difference that one day makes was experienced by associate professor of art Brad McCombs, who was a leader and organizer of the Art in Spain program. 

According to McCombs, he’d been watching the news about the Coronavirus’ foothold on Spain in preparation for the program. While there were some confirmed cases in the country, none of them were near their intended areas of stay—until Madrid, the program’s first destination, reported their first case earlier this week.

“We are disappointed that it had to be canceled but understand the concern with the Coronavirus, specifically in Spain,” McCombs said. “I know it is at the top of [the NKU administration’s] mind to keep students safe.”

According to an updating report by the World Health Organization, at the time of reporting, Spain has 365 cases and the Czech Republic has 12, and the numbers have continued to rise. Both countries have confirmed cases specifically in the areas that students had planned to go.

The Coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19, has been a growing concern since its emergence in Wuhan, China in December of last year. The virus now has over 100,600 confirmed cases in 97 countries and territories, according to an interactive dashboard that monitors the virus in real time by the John Hopkins’ Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

On Sunday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a guidance for universities that encouraged study abroad offices to consider cancelling or postponing programs. Melish said the guidance heavily factored into NKU’s ultimate decision to cancel the majority of Education Abroad’s programming.

According to the CDC, the virus is thought to be transmitted through personal contact. A close proximity of within six feet between individuals can allow droplets from an infected person’s sneeze or cough to land in another’s mouth, nose or lungs. There is also the possibility that the virus can spread when a person touches their face after touching infected objects or surfaces, but the CDC said this is not the main way that it is transmitted.

Melish said the decision to cancel most of their spring programming was also made by considering the possibility that students could be quarantined and miss the remainder of the semester.

“There is the threat of Coronavirus, but there’s also the threat that the students could have been quarantined while they were abroad or when they came back, so we certainly didn’t want to put them in that situation,” Melish said.

Junior international business major Shayla Delamar was one of 22 students whose program had been cancelled. According to Delamar, her “Business in Prague” class was in good spirits and ready for the trip when they met on Tuesday. The following day, Delamar received an email that the program had been cancelled.

Delamar said she had been in a meeting with one of her organizations on campus when she received the news. 

“I was shocked,” Delamar said. “At a certain point, I didn’t really believe it.” 

As she continued through the meeting, Delamar described feeling remote and “blank,” which was made worse when she still had to interact and proceed with the meeting as if everything was normal. When the shock later wore off, Delamar said she experienced sadness and disappointment.

According to Delamar, she and other students started planning for the program in October of last year. As part of the course, they had to complete a project in addition to the trip abroad.

While students will still be able to present their project and gain their credit hours, Delamar said the biggest loss of the program was financial. 

Though the Education Abroad office has pledged to give students a full refund of program fees, Delamar will still lose over $1,000. 

According to Delamar, she exchanged over $200 to be transferred into Czech koruna, the official currency used in Prague. Because of exchange rates, Delamar was only able to collect $165 in return. Students also had to purchase their own plane ticket and Delamar’s was $1,500. 

“The plane ticket was the most annoying because all [the airlines] will allow any of us to do is receive a voucher for how much we paid for the ticket,” Delamar said. “I also didn’t fully get reimbursed with the currency I bought.”

In addition, she purchased suitcases, clothes and travel-sized items, though she said those could be used at a later date. 

Delamar said she is grateful for the help that the Education Abroad Office has provided students. According to Delamar, the office has been in constant contact with students to share support and news updates.

“You can tell [the Education Abroad Office workers] are extremely sorry about it, and they have been working with us—showing us how reimbursements work, how to contact people. I appreciate them a lot for working really hard,” Delamar said.

As an international business major, Delamar is required to go on at least one study abroad program. While the Prague program’s cancellation was disappointing, Delamar said she is confident that this will not affect her expected graduation date.

Since her plans for spring break were cancelled, Delamar said she is going to spend the week at home with her family. Even with the refund, the program was still expensive enough that she cannot afford any further travel plans.

The Guatemalan program was not cancelled because there have been no confirmed cases of Coronavirus within or around the area. Despite Coronavirus’s absence in the area, students could still be at risk while traveling via airports. Because of this risk, Melish said the Education Abroad Office still wanted to give students the option of cancelling their placement with a full refund.

“We don’t want students to feel like they are in any kind of danger. Because it is an ongoing, changing situation, we wanted the students to make those decisions themselves of whether they wanted to move forward or not,” Melish said.

Nina Stewart is one of the students who decided to continue her involvement with the program. According to Stewart, the decision was easy to make because she believed there has been overdrawn panic surrounding the Coronavirus. 

According to a story by the Washington Post, about two percent of cases have been fatal and those most at risk are the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. 

“Not to sound blasé or dismissive, but I’m really not concerned about the virus at all in general. There are a bunch of different diseases and illnesses to get while traveling,” Stewart said.

Though Stewart did not consider opting out of the program, she said she was impressed by NKU’s immediate and thorough address of the issue. According to Stewart, she is going to maintain best safety and health practices while traveling to Guatemala.

“Any time you travel, try your best to be clean and sanitary and be respectful of other people’s spaces,” she said.

According to Melish, the Coronoavirus could have further impact on Education Abroad’s programming in the summer and the office will maintain close observation of the news and keep students updated.

Melish said she understands those who are disappointed with the office’s programming cancellations, but the decision was made in the best interest of the students.

“We do care deeply about students. It’s not an easy thing for us to decide on,” Melish said. “Things will change and that’s just the nature of travel and the nature of life.”

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