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Coronavirus outbreak causes study abroad students to leave

Collin Atwood

On Jan. 30, 2020, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization deemed the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. The virus has now infected over 94,000 people across the world and the number continues to rise by the day.

There are students from Springfield College studying abroad all over the world right now. The highest number of cases reported in a study abroad destination for Springfield College students is in Italy.

The 15 students that were supposed to be in Italy all semester are being sent home early due to concerns over the outbreak. “It’s truly a disappointment and (it) has been extremely stressful in the past week,” said Jackie Baldoni. Baldoni is a junior Physical Therapy major who had been planning to spend the duration of the semester in Italy.

Liv Howley, a junior Art Therapy major, was disappointed in the decision. “It wasn’t fair. I felt safe. I don’t feel supported by the college now that I am home. To be told to stay away and not be checked on after having my dreams crushed isn’t fair,” she said.

“Of course they’re very sad about that…I too feel very sorry about that because I know how much it means to them,” Deb Alm, the Director of the International Center on campus said in regards to the students being sent home.

The sentiment of the students is easy to understand given the circumstances. “It’s all frustrating and extremely disappointing. I was fully expecting to be in Florence until May 15 and to have to spend the rest of the semester at home is going to take a while to adjust too,” Danny Getchell-Lacy, a junior Sports Management major said.

Students will still complete their course work, but it will be done remotely from home for the remainder of the semester.

“The providers are making arrangements for them to complete their courses online so they won’t fall behind and this college will do everything they can do to support them remotely,” Alm said.

The decision to send the students home was not easy for anyone involved. Still, the ultimate decision comes down to the health and well-being of students.

“Yeah, it’s tough, but Springfield was really helpful and at the end of the day you got to do what’s right for your health,” Daniel Sanfilippo, a junior Sports Management major said.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has three levels of travel concern. Level three, which Italy was in, is considered the worst.

“When the CDC and the state department warnings go to a level three, they meet and decide what the best course of action for the safety of the students is,” Alm said. Italy, along with China, Iran and South Korea have all reached level three and had numerous coronavirus cases.

The news of coming home was especially difficult for the students in Italy to receive because rumors had already been swirling.

“Finally, Friday night we were shocked to receive an email from the Rome embassy stating that Italy had gone up from a level two to three health advisory warning, and emails from our program quickly followed,” Baldoni said.

Other places that students are studying in right now include Spain, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Greece, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The only students that are being sent home to this point are those in Italy.

Most areas are only at a level one concern at the moment, besides Spain which has reached level two. “We keep an eye on those warnings. We check them regularly and our providers have their risk management team working around the clock at this point,” Alm said.

This is an unfortunate and rare situation, but it is in the best interest for the students to be sent home early. “Nobody can predict these things,” Alm said. “One of our study abroad providers there has been in the business for 23 years and they have never had to suspend a program when the students were already there,” she added.

Most of the students have already made it home safe from Italy and the rest will be arriving during different points this week.

This is a rare occurrence in the case of study abroad programs, and the disappointment is felt equally by all parties involved.

“Studying abroad has been something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid, specifically in Italy. My parents and I had never been able to travel outside of the U.S., so this was a big deal for all of us,” junior Communications/Sports Journalism major Nichole Maisto said.

“My heart is broken and I am devastated that my experience is being taken away from me, but I am so thankful for the opportunity and the people that I’ve met. Regardless of the outcome of my situation, I’d recommend studying abroad to anyone and everyone, it has changed me and my life for the better,” she added.

Students have been asked to self-monitor themselves for any symptoms and remain away from campus for at least 14 days upon returning to the states.

Photo Courtesy Nichole Maisto Instagram

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