Students abroad express frustration, uncertainty amid COVID-19 outbreak

Concerns regarding the structure of online courses and whether students will be reimbursed program costs remain up in the air.

Temple University Rome (pictured) will hold classes online due to the Coronavirus Outbreak. | COLLEEN CLAGGETT / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Gabrielle Engel was walking around Istanbul with her friend during spring break when she received an email from Temple informing her that she had to return to the United States. 

“So I opened it and it said ‘You need to return to the U.S. ASAP,’ and immediately, my stomach dropped, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to continue spring break,” said Engel, a junior sport and recreation management major who was studying at Temple Rome. “A thousand different thoughts ran through my mind.”

In the wake of a wave of travel restrictions the university has implemented to protect students, faculty and staff from the spread of COVID-19, students are expressing frustration as details surrounding their study abroad experiences remain uncertain.

No one affiliated with the university has contracted the virus yet, though cases reported in Japan, Italy and other study abroad locations have reached the hundreds, prompting schools like Villanova and the University of Delaware to cancel their study-abroad programs, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. 

The university announced that Temple Rome will hold classes online for the rest of the spring semester on Feb. 29.  Temple Japan announced classes will be conducted online until at least March 16, The Temple News reported. Temple has also suspended university-affiliated travel to mainland China, Iran, South Korea and Hong Kong and to large conferences within the U.S.

COVID-19 is a part of the coronavirus family which causes respiratory tract diseases and illnesses, The Temple News reported. Symptoms of the virus include mild or severe respiratory illness, fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the CDC. 

The CDC advises those who feel sick with a cough, fever, have a hard time breathing and have to be in contact with someone who has COVID-19 or recently traveled from an area with an ongoing outbreak to consult with a health care professional. To avoid the virus, do not touch your mouth, eyes, ears, or nose, wash your hands and avoid close contact with people who are sick.

On Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf declared a disaster emergency to increase funding for state agencies responding to COVID-19 after two cases were confirmed in Pennsylvania, according to a press release from Wolf.  

As of Sunday, there are six presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, including four in Montgomery County and one in Delaware County, according to the PA Department of Health.

As of March 9, there are more than 7,300 confirmed cases of the virus in Italy and over 1,100 confirmed cases in Japan, The New York Times reported. Here is how students have reacted to the measures taken by the university in each country:   

Temple Rome

Nicholas Argentieri, a junior international relations major at Bucknell University who was studying at Temple Rome, said he had planned on studying abroad since his first year of college and even structured his course schedule in a way that would allow him to take a semester abroad.

“It’s devastating because we’ve all dreamt about this, worked multiple jobs, saved up for this experience and then it’s cut short,” Argentieri said.

Some Temple Rome students said they are concerned about being reimbursed for fees for course trips they will not be able to go on, course fees and the costs of last minute flights and luggage.

Ray Betzner, spokesman for the university, said Temple is focusing on making sure the students are healthy and safe first and then will deal with all other issues.

“We did not put reimbursement for some of these fees as the highest priority,” Betzner said.  “Student health and student welfare, the continuation of their education, those are the highest priorities for any university and certainly they’re highest priorities for Temple,” Betzner said.

Both Argentieri and Engel are worried about classes being held online.  

“The big concern with all the students is how we are gonna complete classes because a lot of the classes are discussion based and excursion based,” Argentieri said.

Many TUR art and studio class curricula also depend on the setting of the city, Argentieri said.

“I know some of the people that are in studio art and photography it’s all assignments based on photography in Rome and going out to museums here in Rome,” Argentieri said.

Engel said some students have never taken online classes before and are concerned about what it will entail.

“I understand that they want us to resume our academic progress, but I feel as if they have no concern with the emotional toll this is taking for everyone,” Engel wrote.

TUR faculty are working out details regarding the online classes, which resume today, Betzner said.

“Faculty over in Rome have worked very, very hard in a very short period of time to make sure that they can deliver the best quality education online because of the circumstances,” Betzner said. “That continues to be a work in progress, remember we’ve only been doing this for a few days, and we’ve only had a very short period of time to do this kind of planning.”

In addition to sending them home, Temple has asked students who studied abroad at Temple Rome to isolate themselves for 14 days before returning to Main Campus. 

“I think it’s a good and responsible decision from Temple to ask students to isolate,” wrote Ava Gipson, a sophomore risk management major, in an email to The Temple News. “Most of the students from TUR have been traveling and it’s very possible that we could have been exposed unknowingly to the coronavirus at some point. Any precaution in a situation like this is always worth it.”

A few Temple Rome students have had to change their travel plans. Gipson now has to cancel her scheduled trips.

“I was going to Budapest, Greece, London, and Switzerland and now I’m going back home to Philly,” Gipson wrote.

Temple Japan

Though Temple Japan’s campus remains open, students may go home if they wish and continue their coursework online, wrote Bruce Stronach, TUJ’s dean, in an announcement on Feb. 28. Conditions will be monitored to determine if classroom teaching will be able to resume.

“We have been meeting on conference calls every day and will continue to do so in the near future,” Stronach wrote in an email to The Temple News.

TUJ has also canceled or postponed several events “that would have brought large groups of non-students to our campus” in the coming weeks, Stronach announced on March 5.

When Grace Rogers, a sophomore communications major studying at TUJ, found out classes were going to be online for two weeks, she at first felt relieved.

“My first thought was I was excited I didn’t have to make the hour-long commute anymore, but I was definitely a little freaked out just because I think it made the actual threat of the coronavirus shutting Temple down a little more palpable,” Rogers said.

While Rogers appreciates the support of her friends and family, their panic around COVID-19 has caused her more stress in addition to the strain of adapting to online classes, she said.

“As much as we understand that people back home care about us, the reacting and panicking that people are doing is kind of adding to the stress as well,” Rogers said. “It’s kind of just adding to this stress that we’re already dealing with of switching classes to be online and trying to navigate that new learning system.”

At least 10 students that Rogers knows have gone home due to fear of COVID-19 or their parents’ fear, she said.

Like those returning from Rome, students coming back from Japan have been asked to self-monitor for 14 days before returning to campus.

Sophomore marketing major Layla Kasymov headed back to the United States from TUJ after online classes started.

“My parents thought there would be lots of travel restrictions and that because of those travel restrictions the United States might not let us back in,” Kasymov said.

While Kasymov hoped that TUJ’s transition of classes from in-person to online would ease her parents’ concern, they were more worried and decided to get Kasymov back home.

“It kind of just freaked them out a little bit more and kind of started to alarm them,” Kasymov said. 

Hikaru Aburto, a junior communication studies major studying at TUJ, said there has been a major increase in mask and hand sanitizer purchases in recent weeks. 

“Many stores are often out of stock for masks or even have written signs that limit one box per customer,” Aburto said. “I think many people in Japan believe wearing a mask will altogether be some sort of an immunity from the current virus that’s bringing concerns.”

Despite people’s shopping for masks, Aburto said there has been no change in the amount of people usually outside on the streets and around the city. Trains remain packed morning and afternoon, stores still have a strong flow of customers and children still come to learn english, Aburto said. 

Student Health Services is monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak and will provide the Temple community with updates when it is necessary, wrote Senior Director of Student Health Services Mark Denys in a travel advisory alert on Thursday. 

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.