All study abroad programs canceled, students asked to return home

Thursday, March 12, 2020 - 9:03pm

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Design by Erin Ruark

The University of Michigan is suspending all study abroad programs effective immediately and asking all students to return to the United States by March 20, according to an email from Rachel Reuter, Center for Global and Intercultural Study health and safety adviser, sent Thursday. 

University President Mark Schlissel released a statement Wednesday alerting the community about changes to University classes, events and protocol. Following that, in a series of emails sent over a period spanning less than 24 hours, CGIS students were informed that their programs were being canceled, they would need to self-quarantine for two weeks if they had been in any of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Level 3 countries and they would need to come home by next Friday.

“We realize that this may be extremely disappointing to you, but the University is committed first and foremost to your health and safety, and to ensuring the academic quality of your studies,” Reuter wrote. “Even if your academic institution continues to operate, you are no longer eligible to continue attending class on-site as an enrolled student – you must return to the United States.”

Reuter acknowledged the stress some students may be feeling about their academic standing after having to leave their classes mid-semester and assured the recipients that everything would be figured out after they had returned safely to the U.S. 

“We are currently working to bring home over 700 students due to the suspension of UM study abroad programs around the world,” Reuter wrote. “While we understand there are questions about credit transfer, academics, and many other important issues, our priority at the moment is to help support our current students abroad in their efforts to return home as safely and quickly as possible.”

LSA junior Sofia Spencer is studying abroad in England and said she will be heading home as soon as possible after the University recalled students studying abroad. 

“I am angry,” Spencer said. “I am sad. Michigan isn’t helping me come home. Oxford was going to let me stay, but Michigan was so focused on image that they are forcing me to abandon my chances and come back.”

She said while the University wasn’t covering the cost of last-minute travel arrangements, other students in her program from Princeton University did not have to pay the fees themselves.

Engineering sophomore Mitchell Levi is studying abroad in Australia through International Programs in Engineering and is also having difficulty with the short notice.

“I found out we had to leave when Schlissel emailed the whole university and was very vague,” Levi said. “IPE followed up a couple hours later and said that it did in fact apply to us and that they would give us more information in the next 24 hours.”

Levi said IPE told students they had 10 days to leave or they would be unenrolled for the semester. 

“I currently do not have a flight back yet,” Levi said. “My family is actually supposed to be coming to visit me this weekend and they are supposed to be here until the 29th so they want me to stay until then which is longer than the 10 days given. I am still waiting on more information about how this will affect our courses that we are halfway through at University of New South Wales. This has left me very disappointed and confused why we have to go back when the situation is better in Australia than it is in the States.”

LSA junior Mark Castañeda is studying abroad in New Zealand and took issue with the University’s broad guidelines and lack of attention to specific cases.

“I feel extremely disrespected individually that the University is refusing to take into account the differences among individual programs and making widespread blanket policies,” Castañeda. “The University is refusing to cooperate with me and my fellow students, and disregarding the autonomy of the parent institution with which I am studying abroad. Furthermore the bureaucracy and lack of personalized communication is insulting and incredibly upsetting. My own safety is actually being put at stake as well as that of my family by sending me home without considering the risks in the United States as compared to the significantly safer infrastructure in New Zealand.”

On Wednesday night, President Donald Trump announced restrictions on travel from most European countries for non-U.S. citizens. Additionally, most of Europe joined China, Italy and Iran as a Level 3 destination according to the CDC, banning all non-essential travel. 

In an email sent to students currently studying abroad in Europe on March 11 at 11:30 p.m. EST, Amy Conger, University director of Global Engagement, urged students to make travel plans and return to the United States as fast as possible. Conger also reassured them the travel ban does not apply to legal U.S. residents. 

“We strongly encourage those affected by this proclamation to change your travel plans NOW and book travel back to the U.S,” Conger said. “Before the proposed entry restrictions take effect on Friday, March 13 @ midnight.”  

In Germany, another of the countries impacted by Trump’s travel restrictions, LSA junior Ben Solberg said he is struggling to make do with the few details provided to him.

“It’s frustrating to be sent home with limited information about how credits, payments and arrival will work, but I know that the steps being taken are an attempt to slow the spread of disease,” Solberg said.

LSA junior Marisa Garten is in Barcelona but was taking classes through Cultural Experiences Abroad, a third-party study abroad coordinator. She said she found out she would have to leave the country, not because of the University’s requirements, but because of the European travel ban announced by Trump early Thursday morning. 

“My roommate started screaming that we had to leave,” Garten said. “Basically our friend had called her and said that the president is currently closing the borders from Europe in two days and we all have to get out, so I ran to my computer and my parents called me the minute that it happened. And I booked my flight like 30 seconds after I heard.”

Garten said she paid around $900 for her flight, but some of her friends who didn’t act as quickly to book tickets out of the country paid several thousand dollars for theirs. She said the situation has left her sad and upset. 

“Mostly I regret not traveling more, and I regret postponing some of the things that I wanted to go see because I thought I would have more time,” Garten said. 

Once she flies back to the U.S., Garten said she will have to self-quarantine at home in New York for two weeks because Spain is classified as a Level 3 country by the CDC.

“I’m gonna have to self-quarantine working myself for two weeks back at home and everyone, all my friends are back on campus, and all my friends that I met here don’t live anywhere really around,” Garten said. “ … I’m definitely upset and I regret that I didn’t get things done fast enough in terms of I didn’t go enough places while I was here. Also, because of all the trips that I had planned, that I’m not going to get my money back for that … and that is very frustrating.”

Managing News Editor Leah Graham can be reached at leahgra@umich.edu. Daily News Editor Emma Stein can be reached at enstein@umich.edu.