Bates Students Abroad Feel the Impact of COVID-19

Eleanor Vance, Contributing Writer

Preparing to study abroad is daunting, to say the least. As students apply to exchange programs, they commonly worry about how they’ll adjust to a foreign country, if they’ll make friends easily, and how their coursework will compare to their classes at home.
What they probably don’t imagine happening is multi-week quarantines, bans on traveling outside of the country, and the abrupt cancellations of their abroad programs.
Yet this has become the reality for an increasing number of Bates students in countries that have been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19. According to Senior Associate Dean of Students Erin Foster Zsiga, Bates has no students studying in China or South Korea this semester. However, those studying in Italy and France have experienced severe complications with their study programs in recent weeks.
Collin Pember ‘21 recalls how his time in Italy came to an abrupt halt in just a matter of days. Pember, who was studying at Syracuse University’s Florence campus, started seeing news reports about cases in Milan while he was traveling mid-February.
“I thought, this is getting a little bad. They’re definitely going to do something about it, but I don’t know what,’” says Pember.
By Sunday February 23, Syracuse had cancelled school trips to Northern Italy. That Monday, extracurricular activities including field trips, soccer practices, and cooking classes were all canceled. On Tuesday February 25, amid rumors that the program was shutting down, Syracuse held a meeting to discuss Coronavirus updates with the students.
“They told the students they were suspending the program,” says Pember. “So, if things get better it could potentially start up again but when someone asked what the chances of that were, they said it was slim to none.”
All 342 students were told that Tuesday that they had to leave Florence by Sunday. Pember was one of three Bates students studying at Syracuse’s Florence campus, and one of seven Bates students in Italy. They are now all back in the United States finishing their coursework online.
While students are being sent home from Italy, many in France are facing a completely different situation. Less than a month has passed since the country’s first reported death from COVID-19, and France has now declared a level two alert for the virus. Along with taking security measures such as banning large public gatherings, the country is recommending quarantines for people who travel to highly affected areas in Europe.
Ellie Murphy ‘21, one of two Bates students who is studying at Hamilton’s Paris program, and one of three Bates students in France, was placed under quarantine after visiting Italy several weeks ago. Though she did not visit Venice, she was traveling with individuals who had, resulting in her being quarantined for nine days.
“A lot of people are upset,” says Murphy. “Our lives are pretty much still the same, we just have to be a lot more conscious of our health and if we feel sick we have to notify people immediately.”
If France moves up from their coronavirus alert level two to level three, a measure that President Macron has said is now “unavoidable”, the country will close schools and suspend public transport. Hamilton will reportedly ban all student travel outside of the country. Despite this, Hamilton is not making plans to suspend the program as of yet and is attempting to continue as much of the semester as possible.
“I wish my program put more emphasis on students’ health than finishing the semester here,” says Murphy, who is one of multiple students who feel frustrated about their new limitations.
While Bates students across Europe are trying to make sense of the rapidly spreading virus, the Bates Center for Global Education has been busy communicating with their partner programs, students, and parents.
“This is a completely new situation,” says Center for Global Education Associate Dean and Director Darren Gallant. “When it first started out there were comparisons to SARS and MERS, but this has been different.”
Gallant has been in frequent contact with students such as Pember and Murphy whose programs are in turmoil.
“Darren has been really great, he checks up with me at least once a week if not every three days,” says Murphy.
“From my mom’s perspective as a scared parent, the Center for Global Education was pretty helpful,” says Pember, whose parents were not notified by Syracuse of the program’s suspension until several hours after their initial announcement. “She wanted to be updated every day and they followed through.”
While it’s impossible to tell to what extent all students studying abroad will be affected, Gallant recommends communicating with their programs and Bates on what to do if their situations change. “Talk to your program, your school, be in touch with us if you want to talk through different scenarios.”
Thanks to his role in the Center for Global Education, Gallant sometimes hears of programs decisions to cancel classes or restrict travel before they’re announced publicly.
“We’re trying to encourage students to think about where they are and be among the people in some way. They’re abroad at a unique time and other people will never have this experience of being in a foreign location during a global outbreak,” says Gallant.
“It’s not what we wanted but it’s the reality.”