WATCH: Study abroad students share stories of 'abrupt' evacuations amid coronavirus pandemic
- Many college and university study abroad programs were canceled as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread globally.
- Some students were left to evacuate back to the U.S. on short notice.
- Campus Reform spoke to a few of these students to hear their stories.
As colleges and universities have vacated campuses and moved to online learning in the U.S. because of the coronavirus pandemic, many have also suspended their study abroad programs. Students attending American universities across the globe have been told to return home.
In some instances, these students experienced travel difficulties and delays. Others had to evacuate foreign countries on short notice.
Campus Reform spoke to a few students who abandoned their study abroad programs to discuss their experiences.
Marcela Neret was studying in Valencia, Spain through a Florida State University study abroad program when in a matter of days, students were told they must return home to the U.S.
“It was kind of from a ‘one day to the next’ type thing,” Neret told Campus Reform. “We had a meeting with our school and they had told us that we were allowed to stay, but like if we wanted to go back home we were able to do that too...and then the next day everything changed [be]cause Spain became a Level 3. And then we had another meeting and they told us basically that we had to go home.”
According to the State Department website, a Level 3 Travel Advisory warns Americans to “reconsider travel” to a country.
Neret also explained how FSU staff told students there would be no financial assistance to return home. Outside of asking questions through email, there was little contact or assistance provided to the students.
“[They told us] there would be no financial compensation for our flights...then they told us that day Spain was in a state of emergency and that all like the restaurants were closing...except for the supermarkets and pharmacies,” Neret explained. “So it was pretty abrupt, so we just had to pick up and leave by the end of the weekend.”
As her classmates started to return to the U.S., Neret said she “started getting really nervous.”
“We heard that they might close the borders and so I thought that I wouldn’t be able to get back home,” Neret said. “The flights...were very expensive to get home. It was hard to find a reasonable price to get home.”
“My connection was through Madrid. So I had to get through Madrid and when I got there, there were like no taxis. There were hardly any...people out because the city was closed.”
Neret also added that students were left to travel and make arrangements on their own.
However, students at St. George’s University in Grenada had a different experience. While the situation also changed quickly, travel arrangements were made for students and paid for by the school. Students could fly to either Miami, New York, or Toronto. Students were responsible for any connecting flights from those locations.
“We received an email...basically just saying that they strongly recommended that we left the island,” Andrea Cicilia, a first-year medical student, told Campus Reform.
By the next day, students were told to move out of their dorms.
“They got charter flights for us,” Andrea Maguina said.
“We only had like 24 hours to really move out of our dorm and be ready to take off whenever they told us,” Cicilia said. “It was madness honestly.”
While the St. George’s students praised school officials for helping them evacuate Grenada in a timely manner, they added the process was “stressful.” Students still had to keep up with lectures during the evacuation.
“During this whole time we still had to keep up with our classwork,” one student, Frankie Fernandez explained.
The students also recounted the experience of traveling through customs.
The St. George students said there was no coronavirus screening upon their arrival in Miami.
“[Customs agents] didn’t do anything,” Cicilia said.
Neret’s experience connecting through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was similar.
“It was a long process,” Neret said, but added it was not the “seven or eight hours” that many experienced at the same airport just days prior.
“We did a coronavirus screening where they just kind of took our temperature and told us about a two-week quarantine,” Neret said.
Disclosure: Marcela Neret is the cousin of Campus Reform Digital Reporter Eduardo Neret.