Coronavirus pandemic cuts study abroad programs short
4 mins read

Coronavirus pandemic cuts study abroad programs short

When senior sociology major Brady VanLoan traveled to China at the beginning of the spring semester, getting sent home early was the last thing on his mind.

After a month of studying in Shanghai and the rapid spreading of the coronavirus, VanLoan — along with many students — was required to return home immediately.

VanLoan is among one of 18 USD students who were requested to return back to the states due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Being the only USD student who was studying in China at the time, VanLoan said he didn’t realize the extent of the situation until it hit its peak.

“We heard about the virus and that was kind of concerning, but we didn’t know how serious it was until it started to spread pretty quickly and we didn’t really think of the possibility of having to be sent home,” VanLoan said. “That didn’t really come as a surprise to us until the day of. Even then we didn’t really see how bad the situation was getting.”

VanLoan, along with the other students at Shanghai University, were required to stay in isolation in Shanghai and were informed they’d be sent home right after the Chinese New Year.

Since he was studying abroad, VanLoan wasn’t enrolled in any courses at USD. When he returned home at the beginning of February, he said USD faculty helped him get on track for the spring semester.

“I was able to jump into classes (even though I was) a month behind,” VanLoan said. “I did have to stay in isolation for two weeks while I was back. So now I’m kind of a veteran at this whole isolation game at this point.”

Virginija Wilcox, director of the Gallagher Center for Experiential Learning and Education Abroad, said in an email interview with the Volante, as of right now, all USD-affiliated international activity scheduled for spring and summer of 2020 has been canceled.

Wilcox said this was a difficult decision to make, but it was the right one.

“USD’s top priority is the health and safety of its students, faculty and staff,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox also said students who had to return home early would be reimbursed for their programs.

“Our university is committed to help address the unrecoverable costs related to the cancellation of these programs,” Wilcox said. “For that, we have claims form and procedures in place and we are in communications with the folks who’ve experienced financial implications.”

Since VanLoan’s program was canceled, he said he received compensation with the help of USD and the University Study Abroad Consortium (USAC).

“They (USAC) actually paid me back everything I paid them,” VanLoad said. “In fact, I think they paid a little bit more back to me. I think they’ve done everything they can.”

In addition to USD’s study abroad programs, all USD Faculty-Led programs scheduled over spring break were canceled. Wilcox said these programs included four trips to Guatemala and one to Italy.

“As of today, USD does not have plans to cancel USD-affiliated international activity scheduled for fall of 2020,” Wilcox said. “However, if that changes, we will be sure to inform everyone who might be impacted by this. I think the best course of action right now is for everyone to be united and support one another in social distancing initiatives.”

VanLoan said he has mixed feelings about his time in China being cut short, but is grateful for the month he spent there.

“I came back safe and sound without any issues,” VanLoan said. “But I also kind of think a little bit of a blessing with study abroad, just because I got to experience the first initial month where you’re enjoying it.”

While studying abroad is no longer an option this semester and all classes are online for the time being, Wilcox said there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

“The best we can do right now is be patient and follow the guidance provided by the health experts as well as our strong leadership here at USD,” Wilcox said. “It might take a while, but we will get through this– we are a strong community. Stay healthy, Yotes.”