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COVID-19 cancels study abroad for some UM students

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UM faculty met Friday, March 6, to discuss the future of students currently studying abroad and faculty-led trips planned for this summer as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread globally.  

There are 80 UM students currently traveling abroad and 130 students plan to travel abroad this summer, according to the Global Engagement office. UM is currently reviewing student travel to countries the Centers for Disease and Health Control (CDC) has labeled a level 2 health notice or higher for COVID-19. The CDC advises people to take precautions and postpone nonessential travel to these countries, where only Japan is currently listed. Two UM students are studying abroad in Japan this semester, and two more students plan on studying there this summer. 

In an email sent on March 6 to UM students studying abroad, the University’s Global Engagement office said it suspended a faculty-led program to Hong Kong and Macau in China on that was scheduled to take place in March. The Global Engagement office will also be suspending all China summer programs. 

Current level 3 health notice countries include China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, according to the CDC website. The CDC advises travelers to avoid any nonessential travel to these countries because of “widespread community transmission.” Any student group travel to level 3 health notice countries will be “reviewed by the UM International Travel Review Committee with final approval by the Provost,” according to the Global Engagement office email.  

There are faculty-led trips to Vietnam, India, the Dominican Republic, Zambia, Botswana, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Romania, Ireland and Northern Ireland planned for this summer. Lee Banville, a journalism professor at UM, will take students to Northern Ireland this summer. Banville said he felt really assured with the University’s plan for study abroad with COVID-19. 

“It’s going to complicate a lot of travel,” Banville said. “But it’s worth taking these students on a unique experience.”  

The Global Engagement office at UM recommended that the groups consider the risk factors, mitigating factors and then formulate a safety plan before their trips. The groups were also asked to consider the educational value students could gain from the trip. 

Students will be refunded as much as is available for student fees if trips end up being canceled. All the money that is able to be refunded from student expenditures will be distributed back to the students, and UM will provide legal assistance to any faculty negotiating refund amounts, Banville said. Faculty trip leaders will discuss the status of non-refundable expenses if their trips are canceled, as well.  

Damara Stewart, a forestry student at UM, plans to study abroad with a group in Zambia and Botswana this summer. She said her faculty leader has been in contact with her and other students, advising them on potential risks and COVID-19 news as it develops. Stewart said she has already bought and insured her tickets because of uncertainty to where the virus will spread, but she doesn’t lose sleep over the possibility that the trip could be canceled.  

“I’m not too worried about it as of now,” Stewart said. “But I’ll be keeping my eye out.”

 If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, call your medical provider or the Curry Health Center hotline at (406) 243-4330 to discuss your treatment options. 

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