Fate of study abroad program uncertain after coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan

Wednesday, February 5, 2020 - 3:03pm

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Design by Aya Salim

LSA sophomore Katyanne Calleja planned on studying abroad for two semesters this summer in China when the program she had applied to was canceled due to the recent coronavirus outbreak and a lack of interest in the program. 

Calleja said not all of the abroad programs in China have been canceled, though there has been a lot of confusion among students hoping to still travel there over the summer. 

“I know so far that the Beijing one is not canceled and they say that they are just waiting to see what’s going to happen,” Calleja said. “I feel like the whole situation is kind of confusing because sometimes you hear things are canceled, but then sometimes it’s not.” 

Since the University of Michigan issued a travel restriction on Jan. 27 for the entire country of China due to the recent coronavirus outbreak, all undergraduate and most graduate student travel to China has been prohibited and many study abroad programs have been canceled. The University’s travel ban specifically discourages any “non-essential” travel to China for students, faculty and staff and has affected all spring and summer study abroad programs affiliated with the Center for Global and Intercultural Study.

When contacted by The Daily, Dana Elger from the University’s Office of Public Affairs referred all students, faculty and staff interested in learning more about the virus to the Key Issues section of the office’s website. On Friday, the page addressed the travel ban and the international and national threat from the coronavirus.

“The U.S. State Department classifies China as a level 4 travel advisory, recommending that individuals avoid all travel to the country,” the post reads. “The entire country remains under a U-M travel restriction. All U-M Related Travel to China, including for faculty and staff, is discouraged. Personal travel to China is also discouraged.” 

As a result of the outbreak and ensuing travel restrictions, many students said they are struggling to adjust their study abroad plans. 

LSA freshman Erik Reyna was also planning on doing a summer abroad program in Shanghai and was recently informed via an email from CGIS that it’s still unclear whether or not these programs will be canceled.

“I wanted to study abroad in Shanghai but then the University sent me an email saying that the University put a travel restriction on China,” Reyna said. “So undergraduates like me aren’t able to go, and they say that if they don’t lift the ban before March 1 then they’ll just cancel all China programs.” 

The email was sent out last Tuesday from Rachel Reuter, CGIS international health and safety adviser, and explains the travel situation to students that had an open spring/summer or fall application for a program in China. 

“At this time we do not know if U-M spring/summer programs in China will be affected by the travel restriction. If you are still interested in studying abroad in spring/summer or fall, you have several options,” Reuter wrote. “If China is the only program you are interested in, then you should still complete your CGIS application as normal by February 1st. CGIS will review your application and wait to see how the situation unfolds in China. If the restriction has not been lifted by March 1st, then we will cancel the program altogether.”

The email also suggested that students fill out applications for other CGIS programs or withdraw their China application and wait to attend in 2021. 

Reyna said he thinks the decision to set a deadline for programs more than a month before they begin may be preemptive.

“Right now, it’s probably too early to decide because there’s still a possibility that they’ll lift their travel restrictions if the whole virus gets better,” Reyna said. “I feel like March is too early to say ‘Hey, you can’t do this’ ... the University says they don’t know about summer programs, but then again they kind of do because they already put a deadline on it.”

Business senior Kirtana Choragudi also planned on studying abroad in China this May through a program in the Ross School of Business. She said she was informed recently about the program’s cancellation. 

“Most of the work would have been done in China,” Choragudi said. “I was looking forward to learning the content of the class, which is corporate strategy in China.”

Choragudi said other students enrolled in the course this semester were also informed of the program’s cancellation right before the add/drop deadline. 

“They emailed me I think the day of the add/drop deadline or maybe the night before because that’s when U of M released that there was an official ban,” Choragudi said. “Essentially they said that the trip was canceled due to the U of M undergraduate travel ban to China and that they would look at alternate options if we wanted to keep the course on our transcript.”

According to Choragudi, the late confirmation made it difficult to adjust schedules.

“There hadn’t really been any communication from the office before then, even though we’d all been wondering obviously,” Choragudi said. “Since it was the day of the add/drop deadline, there weren’t any full semester three-credit classes I could add because it’s already pretty late into the semester.” 

Mary Gallagher, professor and director of the Center for Chinese Studies, discussed the travel restrictions and health concerns. She said she expects study abroad programs to continue to be canceled until the public health emergency is under control.

“I would imagine that that will happen throughout the winter and spring semesters, that travel to China will be questionable,” Gallagher said. “It could go into the summer in which case summer programs would be canceled.”

Gallagher said while it may cause inconvenience, limiting travel to China as much as possible for the safety of the general public and monitoring potential incoming cases is the best thing to do.

“In the U.S., it’s much more about just being aware of what’s going on, restricting travel to China, making sure that when passengers do come in from China that they’re screened appropriately,” Gallagher said.

Reporter Hannah Mackay can be reached at mackayh@umich.edu