All Troy University study abroad trips have been suspended until further notice due to the COVID-19 virus, according to Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Lance Tatum.
“Over the last 35 to 40 days, we’ve had a lot of discussion about what’s going on in the world related to coronavirus,” Tatum said. “As things have progressed, obviously, the virus has spread to other parts of the word, which has had an impact on how we support study abroad, as well as faculty and staff travel throughout the world.”
The university is watching news and following protocols from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) to ensure students’ safety.
“This is the most evolving situation I think we’ve had to deal with since the H1N1 virus back in the late 2000s,” Tatum said.
Three trips over spring break have been canceled, currently impacting about 70 to 75 students, faculty and staff, Tatum said.
The university has also urged students to exercise caution with spring break travel plans. Popular places like New York and Florida could possibly present elevated risk for exposure to the virus.
If a student were to travel outside the country, they would have to submit themselves to a 14-day quarantine off-campus, according to an email from the school to all students, faculty and staff.
“The ADPH has made it very clear what the process and protocols are for students who return back to Alabama who have been traveling in those countries that have been designated as community transmission states,” Tatum said.
Some international students may also be wary of their safety on campus, but Tatum said Troy is doing what it can to make sure “they have a level of comfort in remaining at Troy University.”
“We have a number of Chinese students who are in communication with their parents back in China, and the discussion is, ‘Is it better to stay or better to go back home?’” Tatum said. “Our advocacy right now is it’s better to stay here.”
There are still students in other countries taking part in long-term study abroad programs. The university is urging them to return home, but their return is not currently mandatory.
“We’re in different stages of getting them back,” Tatum said. “There are some who are getting themselves together and returning to the United States.”
Sarah Gillis, a senior communications major from Montgomery, Alabama, is currently studying in Vichy, France.
“When I received the email from the school telling me to come home, I immediately contacted them and asked if it was mandatory, and they said no, but that it was encouraged,” she said. “If I was in more of a metropolitan area, like Paris, I would strongly consider coming back to the states.
“However, the city I’m in is very small, about the size of Troy, actually. No one comes or goes, so I feel very safe in regard to my health and lack of exposure to the virus.”
She said she is determined to stay in France and continue to study.
“Unless it gets a lot worse, I’m staying here until July like planned, even if they impose travel bans on France,” she said. “I’m hoping that something will be worked out by July, and I’ll be able to go home.”
Gillis said she has been keeping her outings to a minimum, even reconsidering going to church amidst fears of the virus.
“When you think about these trips, the whole purpose of them is to see the world, to explore the cities, which makes these study abroad trips all the more concerning for these students safety and health,” Gillis said.
While Gillis said she felt safe, she said she agreed with the university’s decision to cancel trips to Italy and Greece, where outbreaks have been more serious.
“I truly believe the university has the students’ best interests at heart,” Gillis said. “Now more than ever, I have really felt like the school really cares about me and my health, and that’s really important.”
With studying abroad also comes a significant financial commitment, and last-minute cancellations can mean that some students are out thousands of dollars.
Tatum clarified that some trips are sponsored by the university, while others are hosted by third-party agencies.
He said students who paid for trips through the university (such as the now-canceled trip to Ecuador) will be refunded their payments.
As for those who had to use outside travel sources, situations might be different.
“We’re trying to mitigate any financial exposure a student has,” Tatum said. “The places they were going to take our students are actually coming on the restricted list, and they’re becoming more and more cooperative with getting money back with students or providing them opportunities to travel in the future.”
Tatum said the university is also working to ensure academic progress for those with canceled trips.
“We’ve already made the decision and started working with faculty to make sure those students are not penalized academically,” he said. “We will find a way to make sure that those credits are completed, so it doesn’t stop their progression and it doesn’t hold them out of graduation.”