Study abroad students expected to bring back long-lasting memories of travel and growth, not the fear of putting their family members at risk if they happened to be in the incubation period of COVID-19.
A month and a half into studying abroad in Florence, Elina Niyazov, a college senior, isn’t planning her next weekend adventure around Europe. She’s planning where to quarantine upon her early arrival back to Queens, New York.
Niyazov had a decision to make: get on the flight she already booked from Florence or get on the chartered flight out of Rome issued by New York Governor Cuomo to be quarantined in a dorm in Westchester, New York with no details of the living conditions stated in an email she received that day.
The drastic change of itinerary is due to preventative measures against spreading the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised institutes of higher education (IHE) to consider asking study abroad students to return to the U.S.
“IHEs should work with state and local public health officials to determine the best approach for when and how (for example, chartered transportation for countries or areas assessed as high-risk for exposure) their study abroad students might return,” according to the CDC website.
“I had a mix of emotions because I feel like I understand they were trying to keep us safe and contain the virus,” Niyazov said. “At the same time, being quarantined in a dormitory with other people from Italy is kind of concerning for me because if somebody else has the virus they can easily spread it. I’d definitely rather be self-quarantined.”
American study abroad students nationwide are feeling the impact of the uncertainty of housing arrangements after rushing out of their foreign dorms and apartments.
“My parents are going to live in a different house, and I’m going to live at home,” Niyazov said. “If I am in contact with them they would also have to be quarantined, and my parents both work in a hospital, so we really need to strictly maintain the self-quarantine.”
For some students, the only option is to return to their families and include their loved ones in the two-week quarantine.
“Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure (based on the incubation period of MERS-CoV viruses),” according to the CDC website.
Many students live with older relatives and face the reality that they could potentially expose their families to the coronavirus if they traveled from a high-risk country, such as Italy.
“Self-quarantine is not a very guaranteed option for me,” Erica Wong, a study abroad student from Manhattan, said. “I live in a small apartment. I share bathrooms with my family and they can’t exactly move somewhere else. We don't have the luxury to do that.”
“It’s very unexpected and ruined a lot of plans I had coming here. A lot of us come here with the grand idea of studying abroad,” Wong said. “We speak to people who have had this experience and they rave about how great it is.”
Wong says there isn't much option in a situation like this. After the hectic departure, Wong felt it was best to depart from Florence where she was living, rather than make the hour and a half train ride up to Rome, as it was considered a hotspot for the virus. She chose to fly back on her own and stay in isolation with her family and reflect on the memories of the time she did have abroad.
“We’re [in Florence], we have this amazing month here and suddenly something unpreventable happens, and we’re forced to go back. It’s a huge shock.” Wong said.
By Heather Chiles