While she felt no personal threat, Laura Buckman, a UW-Madison junior studying abroad in Italy, was disheartened to learn she must leave the country at the university’s request due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19, formerly known as Novel Coronavirus.
“I think it affected both the friendships I made and the places I could’ve traveled to,” Buckman said. “I only got to be there for around a month and a half and I think friendships would have grown stronger with more time. Also, I had not prioritized my travels so a lot of places I really wanted to see I had plans to see later on in the semester and now I won’t be able to.”
UW-Madison suspended all of its university-sponsored programming in Italy, South Korea and mainland China under the guidance of the Center for Disease Control. Students who studied in the three countries have been advised to return to the United States and self-quarantine for 14 days while monitoring fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
The university does not anticipate students returning to campus, according to UW-Madison Communications Director Meredith McGlone. Students have been directed to return to their permanent homes.
Although disappointed her formal study abroad experience ended early, Buckman commended the university for its commitment to keeping students updated throughout their decision process.
Buckman does not plan on returning to the United States right away, however. She will continue traveling throughout Europe while taking online classes.
“My spring break was supposed to start this Friday, so my program allowed us to stay until then for any students still wanting to complete their travel plans,” Buckman said. “I have not returned yet. I want to keep traveling as I don't personally see much of a threat so hopefully I can continue.”
All students are being offered the opportunity to complete their academic programs through distance learning — which enables students to take courses at any location — according to McGlone. But additional expenses outside of tuition costs may be lost.
“We still get credit for the semester through online classes, but a lot of students sent emails complaining because we paid for a full semester of room and board, including three meals a day,” Buckman said. “The director of my Italian school [CIMBA] said he will look into it, but it will ultimately be up to the University of Iowa because they are the partnering U.S. school who runs the program.”
As COVID-19 continues to spread across the world, University Health Services said the risk of contracting the virus to UW-Madison faculty, staff and students remains low.
Still, Jake Baggott, executive director of University Health Services emphasized the importance of empathy and understanding in light of recent COVID-19 outbreaks.
“It’s important to keep in mind that we’re all in this together and need to continue to act with empathy and understanding,” Baggott said. “COVID-19 is not specific to an ethnicity or race. No one should be discriminated against or harassed based on their identity or travel history.”
More information about COVID-19 can be found on UHS’ website.