Imagine studying abroad in the beautiful Florence, Italy, but one month into the program, an email informs you that you must book a flight home immediately.
This was the case for Hannah Terrell who was warned by her school in Tennessee that if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a Level 3 travel advisory in Italy, she must pack up her belongings and return to the United States. A Level 3 travel advisory means people must avoid nonessential travel, according to the CDC website.
“I haven't done so much of what I wanted to do,” Terrell said. “All I know is that I’m leaving tomorrow at 10 and don’t know if I’m coming back.”
Terrell is one of the many students who were sent home by her study abroad program as the COVID-19 cases increase in numbers and worldwide attention.
“I’m worried about all of my credits because I need them for the program I’m in,” Terrell said. “I’ll do online classes, but it feels like this has been a waste of my time and an extreme waste of my money. I think it’s more unsafe for us to travel through an airport with all of this than to stay in Florence.”
Riley Sorensen, a college student from Minnesota, has wanted to study abroad for as long as she could remember. She planned her four-year degree plan and living arrangements around studying abroad.
“I was anticipating [the email] coming, I was hoping it wasn't. I got it. It felt like someone reached in your chest and ripped your heart out. It feels like the rug was pulled from under me,” Sorensen said. “A pretty broad range of anger, frustration and mainly devastation about this opportunity that I thought that I had.”
She packed up for her return to Minnesota a few days after her school required her to leave Italy.
“I understand if students start getting the coronavirus. It’s a big problem for them and they’re very liable. They made the decision they had to, but I don’t think that it was valid,” Sorensen said. “I think people are overreacting about the situation. If they gave me the option to sign a travel waiver, I would absolutely stay.”
Sorensen received another email stating that after leaving her study abroad institution, she must go into isolation.
“It’s bad enough that I have to go home. The fact that I have to go home and avoid my friends and stay at home for 14 days while I wallow in the sadness of being home after this amazing study abroad experience is just awful,” Sorensen said.
Sorensen said her transition back home would be much easier if she could get back into her normal routine and see her friends right when she returns.
Some smaller universities haven’t issued emails stating a mandatory return. Chloe Ebbrecht, a university student from Maine, is constantly checking her emails for any updates.
“It’s the uncertainty of not knowing whether I need to pack up tomorrow or I'm staying until May,” Ebbrecht said.
Colette Evangelista, a college student from New York, is yet another student leaving Florence three months earlier than expected.
“As much as I want to stay here, I know that these memories won’t be the same without the people I wanted to share it with,” Evangelista said. “I’m in that mindset right now since everyone is going home.”
She thinks some American universities jumped the gun in requiring students to leave before the universities in Florence closed. Evangelista also said students never got a chance to voice their opinions or say how they felt.
“Life is uncertain. You never know what will happen next and kind of have to go with the flow at this point,” Evangelista said. “Even without all the information you want and need, whether that’s from your home school or your program here.”
By Heather Chiles