UNC's Study Abroad Office sent an email March 1 to all students studying abroad in Italy announcing the academic options available upon their return to the United States. This followed the cancellation of Italy study abroad programs due to the spread of the coronavirus.
In the email, the Study Abroad Office said some of the Italian institutions will offer online courses that students can take and receive transfer credit for.
If continuing studies online with a student’s host institution is not an option, students can enroll in UNC online courses that began on March 1, the day the email was sent to students.
Another option offered is enrollment in UNC summer school courses, which students must decide to do by March 11.
“I can imagine how disappointing this must be after all the studying, saving and planning you did to prepare for your experience in Italy,” Heather Ward, UNC’s associate dean for Study Abroad and International Exchanges, said in the email.
Emily Ballsieper, a junior majoring in psychology, said she will take online courses through her school, the Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute. She said her coursework will not begin until the end of the month, since the Institute is currently figuring out how to make an online platform where they can learn — which is difficult due to technology differences.
UNC's Study Abroad Office has contacted host institutions in Italy to inquire about refunds of program, housing and meal costs, the email said.
Ballsieper said she has already been told that none of her money will be refunded. She said she will continue to have to pay tuition and for her apartment in Florence, despite not living there.
Returning students can request on-campus housing for the Spring 2020 semester and will be charged based on the duration of their occupancy.
The cancellation of study abroad programs in the three countries impacted 48 students and two faculty members in Italy and seven students in South Korea, according to UNC Media Relations. No students were studying abroad in China at the time the decision was made to prohibit nonessential travel.
Virginia Blanton, a junior majoring in journalism, was supposed to be studying in Milan for four months, but only got to spend 31 days in Italy. She said she cried six separate times the day after learning her trip was cancelled.
“It’s crazy how literally last semester I had so many friends that had their typical life-changing study abroad experience, but ours is just being interrupted so intrusively,” Blanton said. “We all just don't know how to handle it.”
While returning to UNC is an option for students, Blanton said she would love to study somewhere else in the United States to continue the adventurous time of self-exploration she began in Italy.
Avery Ward, a junior majoring in advertising and public relations who was also studying in Milan, said that people in the city were carrying on as normal, with almost no one wearing protective face masks. She said this normalcy complicated her feelings about leaving.
“I felt like I was the odd one out because I did have a mask on, so it’s just really weird that I’m leaving this week," Ward said. "But it feels the same as it was when I first came."
Ballsieper also said life was going on as usual in Florence where she was studying.
“My parents and people who are in the United States are more concerned than I feel like I am here, and that’s because the media is really blowing this up and making it red alert,” Ballsieper said.
Blanton, Ward and Ballsieper said they plan to self-quarantine themselves in their homes for 14 days.
“I think I’m going to have to take a break from social media because I’m going to be seeing through my screen all of my friends still studying abroad,” Blanton said. “They get to have their experience as they expected it to be while I’m being quarantined.”
Ballsieper said she is returning to her home in Texas with a couple of friends to stay in quarantine together and figure out what they should do next.
“We really have no idea what we are going to do,” Ballsieper said. “We are just playing it day by day.”
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