Students forced to adjust study abroad plans as coronavirus epidemic escalates

A sign displaying "Study Abroad: International Student Services" is mounted on the entrance to a building with a blue door and a courtyard with trees.
With the threat of coronavirus, many organizations used by 5C students for study abroad cancelled their China programs for the semester. (Meghan Joyce • The Student Life)

As global concerns heighten over the spread of coronavirus, 5C students studying abroad have  been forced to react to last-minute changes and cancellations by foreign universities and program providers.

The 5Cs operate study abroad programs to China through outside organizations like Hamilton’s Associated Colleges in China, Middlebury C.V. Starr Schools Abroad, CET Academic Programs and the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). These organizations all canceled their China programs for the semester after the U.S. State Department issued a Do Not Travel’ advisory for China, its highest level travel alert.

Two Claremont McKenna College students had planned to study abroad in China for the spring 2020 semester, according to Kristen Mallory, CMC’s director of off-campus studies. 

Their programs were scheduled to start mid-February, Mallory said. Their study abroad organizations provided them a list of alternate destinations when they cancelled the China program, and CMC gave them the option of returning to campus. 

One student opted to go to Taiwan, and another decided to go to New Zealand for the semester, Mallory said. 

One Harvey Mudd College student planned to study abroad in China in spring 2020, but their  program was also cancelled prior to the student’s departure, Mudd’s Director of Study Abroad Rhonda Chiles said via email.

No students from Pitzer College or Pomona College had plans to study abroad in China this semester, according to the colleges’ study abroad directors.

All of Scripps College’s program partners suspended their programs in mainland China for the semester before the programs began, according to the college’s study abroad director.

But the virus is also impacting programs outside of China. Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, where Jaimie Ding SC ’21 is set to study this spring through CIEE, announced Thursday it would postpone its coming semester’s start date by two weeks “to prevent the spread and infection” of coronavirus. TSL was unable to confirm before press time if any other 5C students are studying at Yonsei this semester.

As of Wednesday, South Korea had 18 reported coronavirus cases, according to the South China Morning Post.

Ding, who is already in Seoul, said CIEE has not yet told her what this means for her program.

She said she is “pretty disappointed” with the later start date, but trusts “that whoever is making decisions is doing it for the best, for the safety of everyone involved.”

She visited her grandparents in China prior to traveling to Seoul, but cut her trip short and departed for Korea once she saw other countries were beginning to limit flights out of the country, in fear she wouldn’t be able to leave China at all. 

She recounted discovering a cautionary atmosphere upon arriving in South Korea.

“There [were] signs everywhere telling people to wear masks in the subway,” she said. “Basically all the department stores and malls that I went to had hand sanitizer basically everywhere.”

Looking into the future, CMC’s Mallory said she is encouraging prospective China study abroad applicants to “plan as if everything is going to be fine” and have a backup “just in case.” 

Michael Ballagh, Pitzer’s associate vice president for international programs, said the school cannot yet determine whether students will be able to study in China in the fall.

No Scripps students applied to study in China in fall 2020, Neva Barker, director of Scripps Study Abroad and Global Education, said.

“I have spoken to students who are interested in studying in China in spring 2021 and beyond, and while they are aware of the coronavirus, it does not seem to be influencing their plans for a year from now,” Barker said. 

George Wang HM ’23, who has family in China, said he also hopes to study there in the future.

“Most of my relatives live in China, so when the news of the coronavirus outbreak happened, I was kind of on the edge because only three of my family members are here, everyone else is in China,” Wang said.

He said that he’s still planning to go, despite relatives’ warnings.

“Because of what the situation is now, a lot of my relatives told me not to go back to China, but I really want to get into this university called Peking University,” Wang said. “So even if the virus is going on in July, I think I’m still going to go. I’ll be a bit more cautious, but I still really want to go.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the situation Ding described in Seoul was in China.
 A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that no Scripps students planned to study abroad this semester. The Scripps program partners had rather suspended their programs in mainland China before the semester began. TSL regrets these error.

This article was last updated Feb. 9th at 9:59 p.m.

This article was updated Feb. 9th at 2:05 a.m.


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