Colette Kennedy, a junior at the University of Kansas, went to bed one night dreaming of Italian culture and cuisine. She woke up to an email that took it all away.
Kennedy, a business and marketing major from Saint Louis, Missouri, is packing up her bags, along with the rest of the study abroad program in Italy, due to the rapidly increasing public health threat posed by novel coronavirus.
On Saturday, University students received an email from the Study Abroad Office which asked all students participating in the program in Italy to make plans to leave by Friday, March 6.
"I woke up the next morning to hear my friends discussing an email we had received saying our program was cancelled," Kennedy said. "It was very disheartening and upsetting knowing this was probably going to cancel our program."
The decision affected 43 total students, including 35 in Italy, seven in South Korea and one in China, University Spokesperson Erin Barcomb-Peterson said in an email to the Kansan. Peterson said the University also cancelled its spring break study abroad programs in Italy, which affected 17 students.
The University of Kansas has suspended institution-related travel for countries with a Level 3 or 4 warning because of coronavirus concerns, according to an email from Chancellor Douglas Girod.
Study Abroad Outreach Coordinator Jackie Langdon said the University suspended the program because it does not want to send students to countries with a CDC Level 3 or Level 4 threat warning.
“We sincerely regret that world events are impacting our programs and the participation of our students in these experiences, particularly as we know the level of investment our students have made in preparing for their semesters abroad," Langdon said in an email to the Kansan.
Taylen Baumgardner, a junior from Burlington, Kansas studying strategic communications, said she was devastated when she heard the news from the University.
"The email was truly heartbreaking and hard to believe," Baumgardner said. "I have no words to describe the feeling — just a painful, confusing moment that I had to accept."
Baumgardner was studying in Milan for one month before she heard the news. She said the abrupt return not only thew off her many planned trips, but also took her away from a place that held strong meaning to her.
"I feel as though I didn't have enough time to learn the ins and outs of Milan,” Baumgardner said. "It is such a special place in the heart of Italy, and I feel as though I have been robbed of a unique opportunity while still being thankful for the time I did have."
Jasmine King, a junior from St. Louis studying business, was studying in Paderno Del Grappa, Italy before the announcement from the University. King said the news came as a disappointing but acceptable reality.
"I definitely agree with the decision, because if they didn't suspend the program, then it could've gotten worse and we would've been stuck in another country with no way of knowing when we'll return home," King said.
Langdon said students returning to the United States have been asked by the CDC to self-isolate and monitor their health for 14 days upon arrival.
Because of this, non-local students have had to decide if they should come back to Lawrence or return home for the break. Baumgardner, however, was left without a place to live on campus.
“I will not return to Lawrence this semester, sadly, as I gave up my lease before I went abroad,” Baumgardner said.
Baumgardner said after coming back, she is uncertain how to fill the remaining eight weeks of the semester, but she has the option to continue at Milan’s online university.
In addition, Pavika Saripalli, the interim chief of staff at Watkins Health Services, said the University is working to transfer many of its classes online. This is also a contingency plan should the virus result in a total campus closure, although officials doubt such an event will occur.
“Plans are being developed to offer a lot of online education," Saripalli said. “In the very unlikely event we have either a full-blown outbreak, or there's a desire on the part of parents and students to not be physically present for their classes, they're going to try to drastically increase what's available online and be able to convert in-person classes very quickly.”