Cal Poly has suspended study abroad programs in South Korea and Italy, but is keeping their program in Japan open as novel coronavirus COVID-19 fears rise.
The Italy program’s suspension was announced at the March 3 Academic Senate meeting by President Jeffrey Armstrong. The Korea program was suspended last week.
According to University Spokesperson Matt Lazier, there are currently 35 students studying abroad in South Korea, Japan and Italy. There are 2,036 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in Italy, 4,812 confirmed cases in South Korea and 239 in Japan according to the World Health Organization as of March 3.
The university has no known students or employees traveling in China where there are 80,303 reported cases.
The International Center has begun addressing concerns about how the coronavirus could affect students’ chances of going abroad in an email sent out to study abroad participants.
“We are monitoring international programs for the upcoming Spring and Summer quarters that may be impacted and staying in touch with students and employees who plan to travel, to keep them aware of the latest developments,” Lazier wrote in an email to Mustang News.
The Global Programs Cal Poly in Thailand, Cal Poly in Vietnam and the Environmental Management and Sustainability in Taiwan program are still set to take place this summer, but the International Center will continue to monitor the worldwide situation and send updates as needed, according to the emails.
For students who are planning on participating in these programs, such as kinesiology sophomore Ashlynn Lawston, all that can be done for the time being is to wait and see what the future holds.
“I’m a little worried I won’t be able to go to many places in Asia after the program ends, because flights will be canceled or the situation will get worse, but for now I feel safe going to Thailand since there are more cases in the United States than Thailand,” Lawston said.
Other students who are currently studying abroad, like environmental management and protection junior Elizabeth Luck, have already had to make adjustments to their travel plans due to the unpredictability of the virus.
According to Luck, she and a group of friends who are currently studying in Australia had scheduled trips to New Zealand, Bali and Thailand back in November when flights were cheaper. They have since had to cancel due to the risk of exposure and the possibility of being quarantined.
“It’s a bummer that we will have to go home earlier than expected and will probably lose some money, but we have had a great time so far traveling around Australia,” Luck said.
Non-affiliated Cal Poly study abroad organizations, such as the TEAN program in Seoul, South Korea, are also taking precautionary measures and have decided to cancel the remainder of courses.
Biological sciences junior Sonja Waitkus is studying abroad in Seoul and said she has decided to stay in South Korea for the time being.
Waitkus said not much has changed in her day-to-day life, with the exception of more masks and hand sanitizer seen throughout the city. Although her family has been pretty concerned due to the proximity of South Korea to China, they feel Waitkus is safe as long as she is stocked up on food, medicine and masks in the event of a quarantine.
“I think if the situation worsens significantly, they will probably want me to come home as soon as I can, but I’m honestly not too concerned about it right now,” Waitkus wrote in an email to Mustang News. “I really wanted to come to South Korea, and seeing as this situation hasn’t impacted my experience too significantly, I’m still very happy to be here.”
On the water, the Semester at Sea program has had to modify their schedule to avoid traveling to high-risk ports.
Finance and marketing junior Kate Lyons assumed she would stop at 10 different ports throughout Asia and Africa during the duration of her program. However, since her departure in January, port stops in China, India, Malaysia, Seychelles and Mauritius have been canceled.
Lyons said the program’s itinerary is constantly being adjusted on board as new updates about the coronavirus outbreak change in a matter of seconds.
“My feelings about this have been insane,” Lyons wrote in an email to Mustang News. “We have been upset, angry, sad and confused. There are so many mixed emotions for us because this has completely changed the itinerary that we signed up [for].”
The Chinese students on board were denied entry by the Vietnamese government, which means they have not left the ship in more than 30 days, Lyons said. At the next port, about 10 students dropped out of the program as fears rose, according to Lyons.
“When I heard about this in Japan, I never thought about how big of an impact it would have on me and the voyage,” Lyons wrote.