By Abby Wargo, Cassy Sottile, and Erica Quinones
Editor-in-Chief and News Editors
The continuous spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) impacted the Washington College study abroad programs. Full-length semesters abroad and short term trips were shortened or canceled, affecting 24 WC students who are either currently abroad or about to depart.
The COVID-19 epidemic spread from Wuhan, China across the world, leading to the United States government issuing travel bans for hot spots like China and South Korea, both of which are level three warnings meaning the government advises against all non-essential travel.
Other countries like Iran, Italy, and Japan are level two travel warning countries, advising people to visit with increased caution.
COVID-19’s spread and the travel advisories prompted the reexamination of current study abroad programs and trips, specifically those in or to Italy, Japan, and South Korea.
Four students participating in the Milan, Italy study abroad program were advised to withdraw from the program and return to the United States; as of Monday, three students are back. WC’s decision to review plans for international study partially stemmed from the Milan partner school’s decision to close its campus last week due to the virus outbreak.
Students who returned from Milan were encouraged to self-quarantine for at least 14 days.
Three students scheduled to leave next month for a semester-long study abroad in Japan and Korea, and 12 students set to participate in the Harvard World Model United Nations conference in Tokyo, Japan in two weeks, were informed that their travel plans were cancelled.
Five students scheduled to travel to Tokyo on a spring break trip sponsored by the Japanese government were also advised to cancel their trips.
Additionally, the outbreak impacted the summer and fall 2020 study abroad programs, although it is currently unclear to what extent. Several students are scheduled to travel to Italy and Korea. The 24 students slated to study abroad this fall have the option to delay their study abroad to spring 2021 and/or they can register for fall 2020 courses at WC in addition to planning to study abroad; a measure that is not normally allowed. WC will reevaluate all of the fall 2020 study abroad placements by May 1.
A business management summer travel course, set to begin in Milan in late May, is under review, and a final decision on whether the course will move forward is set for March 25.
College administrators and faculty, including President Kurt Landgraf, Provost and Dean of the College Dr. Patrice DiQuinzio, Vice President of Finance Laura Johnson, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Dr. Sarah Feyerherm, Associate Dean for International Education and Professor of Political and International Studies Dr. Andrew Oros, and Director of Health Services Lisa Marx, worked together to make decisions to abbreviate or cancel trips abroad.
“I have spent many days consulting many stakeholders, including our campus health services director, Lisa Marx, and external sources that the College employs for risk management. The safety of all of our students must be the primary factor in making decisions, and we believe we are acting in that spirit,” Dr. Oros said in an email to faculty sent Feb. 26.
Due to concerns over the ability to graduate on schedule, students who planned to study abroad this semester have several options to make up the coursework for the spring semester.
“GEO has been doing everything we can to ensure the cancellation of these programs does not have a negative effect on the affected students’ graduation plans and financial aid, and their overall experience here at WC,” said Alex Levy, assistant director of the Global Education Office. “Our faculty have been outstanding and have found a lot of creative ways for the seven students affected to stay on-track academically, which includes but is not limited to securing independent studies, internships, online or distance coursework, and late enrollment in current courses.”
Study abroad students have the option for their spring semester tuition to roll over into the fall and take the rest of the semester off.
“We recognize that many students are not wanting to delay their graduation, so a nice thing about being small at WC and having the opportunity for personal attention means we can work with students individually on what is best for them. It turns out that most students are working to do at least some academic credit this semester through independent study or internship,” Dr. Oros said.
Other options for students to recoup credit can include taking on a part-time course load at WC for partial credit, starting after spring break. Students can also take summer classes at other institutions and transfer the credits in.
“If these students cannot find an internship right away, a summer internship for academic credit would be a good option,” DiQuinzio said in an email sent to faculty on Feb. 26. “Another option would be to have them skype or zoom into a course currently underway and allow them to finish the early work of the course while they participate in the second half, if that approach makes sense for the course in question. Some of them will most likely need to take some courses elsewhere this summer and transfer them back to WC.”
Ultimately, students will probably need to utilize a combination of the secondary options in order to gain full academic credit for the spring semester.
Administrators are working on plans to minimize students’ financial loss. Dr. Oros said they are working with students on a case-by-case basis for reimbursement. He also said that it is important to understand that, “these are costs that the students anticipated and budgeted for, we have to be careful shepherds of the College’s limited resources and sharing costs of disruption.”
Financial burden does not only apply to students studying abroad, but also those scheduled for the Model United Nations trip.
Senior Alex Ramos said that while the Student Government Association covered most expenses like the hotel and conference registration fee, students were responsible for their airfare.
Landgraf said that he authorized the reimbursement of students’ personal expenses.
According to Landgraf, the Emergency Operation Group (EOG) is not only planning for the present, but also the future. They must look forward, anticipating if the epidemic worsens in the United States and how to prepare for that situation.
Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, Title IX Coordinator, and Chairperson of the EOG Dr. Candace Wannamaker said that they are working to assure all departments have updated flu and continuity plans, and to develop a plan to teach students if the campus is closed due to COVID-19.
These measures include assuring that department members are cross-trained to keep daily processes working and offering faculty training sessions on how to make class content accessible online, according to Dean Feyerherm.
Additionally, housekeeping was recommended to increase sanitation during normal rounds while school authorities emailed students on proper ways to keep healthy, including avoiding contact with sick people, avoiding touching eyes, noes, and mouth with unwashed hands, washing hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based sanitizer, covering coughs and sneezes, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.
Dr. Oros said preventing the spread of illness is in individuals’ control. “At this stage, the best proactive course for our students and faculty and staff is typical hand washing and staying home if you are sick and those kinds of procedures. That is very much in the control of our students, so I encourage students to use the self control they have. I understand it is a scary time.”
If you travel abroad during spring break or during this semester, please notify Health Services prior to your return to campus. Even if you are not feeling ill, please monitor your temperature twice daily and report any symptoms immediately to Health Services at 410-778-7261 or after hours to the Kent County public health department at: 410-778-1350.