USF students sent back to U.S. from Italy, South Korea

A passenger is screened for COVID-19 at the airport. ITALIAN DEPARTMENT OF CIVIL PROTECTION/FLICKR

Hayley Burcher, Katherine Na

Staff Writers

While the University reviews its pandemic procedures and prepares for the possibility of COVID-19 coming to campus, USF students studying abroad have been dreading their own return to the U.S.

On Feb. 29, several USF students studying abroad in Italy and South Korea were instructed to return to the U.S. via email from the Study Abroad office. 

In an email, Sharon Li, senior director of the Center for Global Education at USF, said, “The host programs in Italy that our students were attending made the decision to close and sent all students in the programs back to the U.S.” 

Regarding students who had planned to study abroad in South Korea, Li said, “The program in South Korea had pushed back their start date of their semester, so we had a few students who did not leave the U.S. yet, so we did not have to recall them.” 

According to Li, host programs in Italy assisted USF students with flight changes and covered any additional travel fees, while USF assisted a student already in South Korea with airfare so they were able to return home. 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently issued a guidance, last reviewed on March 1, that universities consider postponing or cancelling student international exchange programs, as well as asking students participating in such programs to return to the U.S. 

When asked about whether the Center for Global Education is considering changes to study abroad programs in other countries, Li said, “The Center for Global Education continues to monitor the situation worldwide with the COVID-19 virus, and we are working closely with the University’s global security consultants [International SOS], local partners and other contacts on the ground who are providing first-hand updates. We are assessing the situation daily, taking into account the recommendations of the CDC, WHO, the U.S. State Department, and our security experts.” 

Lexie McNinch, a junior media studies major who is currently studying abroad in London through Boston University, expressed fear about her program potentially being cancelled. On March 2, she said, “[BU] has been communicating that the program is still on, however, if it were to be cancelled, it would be extremely disruptive because there is no backup plan since we are in the internship phase with one elective right now and there would be no way to get school credit.”

McNinch received an email from USF on Feb. 2 that stated that the University will support its students abroad who are considering returning home from their exchange programs. The email said, “We will work with your host program to find alternative means to complete your studies from the U.S.” 

Li explained that host programs in Italy have created online courses for exchange students who returned to the U.S. in order for them to receive academic credit for the semester. Regarding students who were scheduled to begin their study abroad program in South Korea, she said, “We are working with CASA, Department Chairs and their Deans to create courses at USF that fulfill the requirements they were planning to take abroad.” 

According to Li, tuition will not be refunded for students whose study abroad programs were cancelled, as they will still be receiving credits for their alternate courses. 

Junior politics major John Iosefo was studying abroad in Rome, Italy through Loyola University Chicago’s John Felice Rome Center. Iosefo originally intended to stay in Italy even after receiving USF’s email instructing students to return to the U.S. However, a few days later, he was informed that his host program would finish remotely and he would need to leave Italy. 

Iosefo, along with the other members of his study abroad cohort, will be finishing his academic programming online. 

Prior to his program in Rome being called off, Iosefo noted that Romans seemed to be taking the outbreak in stride. “Pubs, bars, and restaurants are also still filled every night,” he said.

While he was still in Rome, Iosefo told the Foghorn, “The common feeling, at least among my own friends, is that the international and US media are blowing the crisis out of proportion. Our parents read sensational headlines about the crisis and are automatically thrown into a panic. I understand that this outbreak, as with any outbreak, is concerning, but the amount of sensationalism and misinformation that has been spread is in some ways even more dangerous than the virus itself.”

As he prepared to leave Italy, Iosefo told the Foghorn that he is “well beyond frustrated” with the situation.

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