The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a Level 3 advisory Feb. 28 for all of Italy in response to an increased presence of COVID-19, the disease more commonly referred to as coronavirus. At that point, students studying in Italy through U.Va. were informed by the University and their international partners that they could no longer condone students remaining in Italy during this public health crisis.
Per the standing University Policy on Student International Travel, CDC advisories of Level 3 and Department of State advisories of Level 3 or higher automatically result in a restriction of student travel to the advised destinations. This includes programs already underway and could affect other abroad opportunities as this global health issue progresses.
The University issued a statement Jan. 27 urging students studying abroad in China to consider departure, and it cancelled all study abroad programs in China that had not yet begun.
The University also announced March 3 the cancellation of all outbound study abroad programs for spring break. Over 1,000 University students and Graduate Medical Education trainees were expected to pursue travel outside the U.S. for University-related purposes during January Term 2020 or the Spring 2020 semester.
“The University monitors health, safety and security conditions where our students travel for University-related purposes,” according to the University International Studies Office's most recent memo on Health, Safety and Security Abroad. “Our exchange university partners and the provider organizations that offer education abroad programs open to U.Va. students also monitor those conditions. If risks are identified, students are advised on how to respond and directed to support services.”
Most recently, these risk factors have affected University students studying abroad in Italy for the 2019-2020 spring semester.
The University holds study abroad opportunities in Florence and Siena, Italy. According to the Department of Spanish, Italian and Porteguese’s website, between 100 and 200 students typically participate in the Florence program, while 18 to 30 students typically participate in the Siena program.
Both of these programs have been discontinued in response to the Level 3 classification by the CDC for all of Italy. Students that were studying in these two cities will have the opportunity to complete their classes online.
Second-year College student Grace Guenther was studying in Florence as the situation unfolded.
“The entire situation really escalated within the span of a week — within one weekend we went from a pretty low number of cases to about 200 to 300,” Guenther said. “For the first few days, U.Va. deferred to [the International Studies Institute] — which is the program that we were in — and said that they would follow whatever decision they made.”
Once the region was declared a Level 3 risk area, both the University and their international partners contacted students asking them to sign a withdrawal agreement which includes vacating housing and leaving the country.
These students will not be refunded for overall tuition or housing fees.
However, the University has been in regular communication with the students studying in Italy and their host program or university, and those communications continue as health concerns of these traveling students are addressed.
Professor Francesca Calamita, director of University programs in Siena and Florence, discussed the situation in an interview with The Cavalier Daily.
“We understand that this is not ideal since when you go to study abroad you really want to taste the country,” Calamita said. “But we regret the turmoil of the students and that they were only able to stay in Italy for a short while, and we hope they feel encouraged to return at a later date.”
The study abroad office is supporting students in completing their academic courses online, although lamenting the current situation.
The University traditionally offers additional programs abroad to Italy in the summer and fall semesters. These programs in Siena and Florence are currently scheduled to occur as planned. The application for the summer programs closed March 1 and, according to Calamita, there are students enrolled and planning to attend, should the global health situation permit it.