Wisconsin study abroad students being brought home amid coronavirus outbreak: ‘It’s just very unfortunate’

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A notice explaining precautions to be taken by people traveling to Wuhan, China, is seen at a terminal of Rome’s International Fiumicino airport, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Heightened precautions are being taken worldwide as a new strain of coronavirus has been infecting hundreds of people across the central Chinese metropolis. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – As concerns about the coronavirus continue to build, area college students studying abroad are being asked to return to the United States. At the end of February, eight students at St. Norbert College studying in Italy – labeled as a Warning Level 3 location by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – were recalled “out of an abundance of caution and consistent with our duty of care,” according to the school.

“I understand the precaution and our safety is important, it’s just very unfortunate to have to come home,” says MariJo Lesatz, a junior at St. Norbert College who is currently studying abroad at John Cabot University in Rome. “I have wanted to study abroad since middle school and I have saved up for it, and now it is being taken away from me.”

Gail Gilbert, Director of Study Abroad and Off-Campus Programs at St. Norbert College, says the decision to recall the students in Italy was difficult to make but was done to ensure their safety based on the travel advisory from the CDC. She adds that the school is looking at all options to reimburse and help those affected by the recall.

CONTINUING COVERAGE OF THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, “is the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019,” according to the World Health Organization.

Gilbert says St. Norbert College is not the only college or university suspending various parts of its study abroad program. While speaking with Local 5, Gilbert received notification that St. Norbert’s partner school in Italy was suspending its travel abroad program.

According to CBS News, Italy currently has over 2,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, the most outside of Asia.

Other area universities are seeing an impact from the coronavirus outbreak.

  • One student from Lawrence University is returning from Italy as a result of the CDC’s travel warning.
  • According to UW-Oshkosh, two UW-Green Bay students have suspended their study abroad program in South Korea. A spring semester program in Italy has been suspended, affecting one student who is returning home immediately.
  • No students at Marian University have had to return to the U.S. or cancel any trips. There is an upcoming trip to Guatemala that students and faculty will embark on in May, but Marian says there are no current plans to cancel it unless the situation changes.

Many of the schools, including St. Norbert, UW-Green Bay, and Lawrence, are providing students with updated information about the coronavirus on their websites.

Julianna Nett, a junior at St. Norbert College who is also studying at John Cabot University says Italy is helping students take precautions amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“Through my program provider, we are unable to travel to the areas in northern Italy with confirmed cases such as regions near Milan and Venice. Also, every time since early February that I have traveled via plane, when I get back home into Rome, I am required to be screened for a temperature test to ensure that I do not have the coronavirus,” Nett tells Local 5.

John Cabot University is also providing students with information on precautions to take to avoid getting sick. An on-call doctor is available if any students believe they are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, according to Nett. She adds that the school has offered access to counselors, free of charge, if they begin to experience any anxiety over the coronavirus.

“On the streets, I see some people wearing masks, but overall people don’t seem to be scared here in Rome, which is why it is so frustrating to be sent home,” says Lesatz.

Those students coming back to the U.S. will complete their courses online, according to Gilbert, but will be invited to be on-campus in De Pere for the rest of the semester, starting at the end of March. Gilbert adds that St. Norbert is working with the local health department to reinstate those study abroad students back into the campus seamlessly.

“Overall, it’s a very unfortunate situation and I am not ready to come home when there is so much I still had planned to do and see. I am thankful for the time I got here, but I do wish it didn’t have to end on a bad note,” Lesatz tells Local 5.

Gilbert says all eight students are returning before March 8. There are currently 26 students from St. Norbert College abroad. At this time, no others are affected by the coronavirus outbreak, but Gilbert says the school is continuously monitoring the situation as it changes frequently.

St. Norbert College also offers a domestic service program, called TRIPS (Turning Responsibility Into Powerful Service). Gilbert says none of these trips to areas in the U.S. are affected at this time, but college officials are continuing to monitor the situation.

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