The Office of Study Abroad suspended all programs on Thursday morning, per an email to all abroad students from Associate Director of Study Abroad Emily Gorlewski and Interim Provost Rob Rosenthal. Students were instructed to return to the United States as soon as possible, if they were legally permitted to do so. The decision comes as the novel coronavirus strain, COVID-19, continues to spread rapidly across the globe.
The Office assured students that they would receive academic credit for the semester.
“Not all the programs can guarantee it, but Wesleyan is for all of the programs,” Gorlewski said in an interview with The Argus. “Students who are on like a CIEE program might be directly enrolled in a university, and the university might be like, ‘No, we’re not doing anything online,’…and so if that can’t be guaranteed from their program, we’re gonna be able to do something for that. We don’t actually know what, but they will go up in North College, and we’re all gonna be talking about planning for that.”
The decision comes after President Donald Trump’s announcement on Wednesday night that all travel from Europe would be suspended for 30 days for non-U.S. permanent residents. Gorlewski spoke to The Argus about the sudden change, and how it would affect students.
“Twenty-six countries jumped up to Level 3 without ever going to Level 1 in some cases, or Level 2 cases,” she said. “That is when we decided definitely Europe is out, and I was like, this is just going to happen again in a couple weeks in every location, so you know, we were ill-prepared. We were prepared because we knew that it was going to happen or suspected that it was probably going to happen at some point, so we have done all we could to prepare, but we didn’t expect it. Last night, all of a sudden, we thought it would be incremental, it would go one, two, and then three, we didn’t expect zero to three.”
“We don’t want people to get stuck, we were scared every minute last night that our students were literally stuck in Europe for a month,” she added.
Booking last-minute flights to the United States may also pose a financial burden to many students currently abroad. Gorlewski said that the Office of Student Affairs’ emergency fund would be available as a resource to students. Vice President of Student Affairs Mike Whaley confirmed that the emergency fund will be accepting requests from students who need financial assistance for travel.
“We’re gonna see what we can do for students, we don’t want anybody stranded, we don’t want inequities in who’s able to leave and who’s not able to leave, we want to make sure that all the students have the same safety and resources,” Gorlewski said.
Typically, Whaley said in an interview with The Argus, the fund has about $20,000, but the University has expanded its funding due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Given the unusual circumstances right now, we’re reviewing requests and the University has made more funding available there,” Whaley said.
Gorlewski said that at the beginning of the semester, roughly 20 international students were studying abroad and many of them will not be able to return to Wesleyan or to the United States due to the ban. Gorlewski also said that they have been instructed to return home.
“If they’re not able to go home, they can contact the Office of International Student Affairs and/or our office and we can see what we can do for them,” she said. “They should let us know if that’s not an option for them.”
All students who are returning from abroad were asked to fill out a Google Form to inform the office of their travel plans.
The Vassar-Wesleyan-Wellesley program in Bologna had already been cancelled after the Center for Disease Control (CDC) declared Italy a Level 3 country, and students came back from South Korea after their program was suspended, as previously reported by The Argus.
“We made the decision all together with Academic Affairs and higher officials, the provost, that we would call the Bologna program when the CDC level got to 3,” Gorlewski recalled. “Three is their highest level, so we’re like, ‘Okay, at that time, it’ll definitely be time for them to go home.’ And, that same afternoon, it suddenly went to Level 3. It went to Level 3, we called it, you know, those students, it’s lucky it was that program because it was pretty easy to move everything online for that program.”
In the email to students abroad, Gorlewski and Rosenthal apologized for the turn of events.
“We are truly sorry that your semester abroad has come to this unfortunate end,” Gorlewski and Rosenthal wrote. “Please know that you have our support and we will assist you in any way we can.”
This is an evolving story, and we are trying to get answers about how Wesleyan will be operating for the rest of the semester. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions and concerns and we’ll try to get information out as soon as we can.