Study abroad students sent home in March amid COVID-19 concerns

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With the news of the travel ban issued on March 11, Boise State’s Center for Global Education was forced to terminate programs sooner than expected. Gonzalo Bruce, the assistant provost for the Center for Global Education needed to respond to this ban quickly amid concerns about the coronavirus outbreak in the United States and around the world.

“Two countries fell very quickly at the end of February — South Korea and Italy — and for us, that was our indication that we need[ed]to cancel everything regarding the program and the students’ [trips],” Bruce said.

The rapid nature of this issue continues to be a great concern for the Center for Global Education. It is also a type of emergency situation that the center has not dealt with before, according to Bruce.

“The recent travel ban that was issued forced us to recall all of our travel programs in Europe, which is about 100 students,” Bruce said.

Corrine Henke, the director from Global Learning Opportunities & International Student Services Center for Global Education, explained that this ban affected all students abroad in mid-March.

“We called back all students from studying abroad on Sunday, March 15,” Henke wrote in an email.

Not only is the center dealing with terminating students’ terms abroad, but they are also facing the obstacle of addressing financial and academic concerns once they return.

“We are working with the programs and the host universities in finding ways where students could continue taking these courses, but in an online format from the partnering university, and [students]could eventually receive their transcript,” Bruce said.

But the obstacles are based upon the students’ health, as well. When students return to the United States, they are expected to quarantine themselves to ensure that they are healthy and do not risk spreading a possible illness.

“Some students have come to campus and then gone to self-isolation,” Bruce said. “Other students have gone home [in Idaho]and exercised self-isolation from there, while others have returned to their homes outside the state of Idaho.”

Matt Andrews, a sophomore film and television arts and Spanish double major, was studying in San Sebastián, Spain when he heard the news that he and his peers would be asked to return home sooner than expected. The news came from the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) which provides study abroad programs to students who are looking for affordable options.

“On the morning of [March 11], students in our program were assured by staff and faculty in our USAC program that we wouldn’t be sent home, and that everything would be alright,” Andrews wrote in an email. “At 11 p.m. […] we received an email saying we’d be sent home.”

This email was sent to all USAC students in Spain, including the program Andrews was involved with. Considering the recently declared pandemic, Andrews agreed that the decision was made for the student’s best interest. However, Andrews said the timing of the email was inconvenient for both him and his peers.

“I fully support [USAC’s] decision to send us home, but the manner in which they did it was not appropriate, specifically sending an email that some students had to wake up to the next morning,” Andrews wrote.

Andrews returned to the United States on Sunday, March 15, but now must endure a 14-day quarantine. At the time of interviewing, Andrews was about 22 hours into this quarantine period, and he was asked to avoid participation in any extended contact with anyone.

“The process has been very difficult,” Andrews wrote. “A lot of long, frustrating, sad and confusing days in a short amount of time.”

Despite the challenges he faced in dealing with the recent coronavirus pandemic, Andrews said he was able to take advantage of the two months he was given to study abroad.

“Studying abroad was the best experience of my life,” Andrews wrote. “I was able to explore new places, meet new people and discover who I was. I wouldn’t trade my two months for the world.”

Boise State is not the only university being affected by the novel coronavirus outbreak. Nicholas Figueroa is a junior biology major from Brooklyn, New York. He attends West Texas A&M University but was located in Costa Rica for his study abroad program.

Figueroa was sent home on Friday, Mar. 20.

“This process has been very difficult,” Figueroa wrote. “I have to say goodbye to many of my good friends and I have cried a lot. This process has been very rough for me.”

Boise State announced its decision to move all courses to a digital format, while West Texas A&M University announced its plan to postpone all classes on campus including the week after their spring break. Upon Figueroa’s arrival in New York, he is required to quarantine himself for three weeks. Besides the sense of urgency Figueroa experienced in the last week, he did enjoy his overall experience abroad.

“This study abroad experience has been life-changing,” Figueroa said. “I have met people I will continue to be friends with and I have experiences that are once in a lifetime.”

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