Study abroad programs shuttered as coronavirus grips Italy

The Florence Cathedral in Florence, Italy, is pictured. (Florian Hirzinger / Wikimedia Commons)

As Italy grapples with the worst outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Europe, some Tufts students studying abroad at pre-approved non-Tufts-affiliated programs have been forced to leave their respective programs.

Nadia Sbuttoni and August Moore, both juniors, were studying abroad in Italy on such pre-approved programs, but their programs were cancelled and they were told to leave the country. 

Moore was on the Syracuse Florence program with Syracuse University and Sbuttoni was on Brown in Bologna with Brown University.

Tufts doesn’t have any programs in Italy, so those of us who study Italian for our language requirement mostly do pre-approved programs with other schools. In this case, I did the Syracuse program in Florence,” Moore said. 

The Syracuse program is popular with Tufts students studying Italian, so a number of Tufts students had the same experience as Moore.

Moore explained that the Syracuse administration scheduled a question and answer session on the campus in Florence to address coronavirus questions and concerns, where they actually announced that the program was being cancelled and everyone was expected to leave by the end of that week. 

“It was a little abrupt,” Moore said. 

Sbuttoni experienced something similar. On Feb. 28, Sbuttoni and other students were told they had to leave by March 7. 

“I had to pick from a selection of flights that either had multiple lay-overs, were upwards of $1,500 for a one-way ticket, or travel to Rome on a train to get a direct flight,” Sbuttoni wrote in an email to the Daily. 

Despite travel woes, both Moore and Sbuttoni expressed the ease of communication with Tufts.

“Initially, I didn’t hear much from them. I’m not sure if Syracuse informed them at the same time that they informed us. But a day or two later, I heard from Tufts’ abroad office, I think, saying that they had heard the program was cancelled and basically to contact my academic advising dean and other academic advisors for how to proceed,” Moore said. 

Sbuttoni also said the study abroad office reached out to her and asked to hear her plans.

I was pleased with the communication from Tufts. They never formally asked me to leave Bologna until much after my program was cancelled which I appreciated,” Sbuttoni said. “When the CDC raised the level for Italy to a Level 3, they asked me to fill out a survey that had me answer questions about my assessment of the situation in Bologna.”

Mala Ghosh, senior director of Tufts Study Abroad and Global Education, acknowledged the difficulty in following the situation for students studying abroad, but sought to assuage concerns about the future of study abroad.

“We have been in regular contact with [students], making sure they are aware of information from the U.S. Department of State and national and international public health authorities about the rapidly evolving circumstances surrounding COVID-19, Ghosh wrote in an email to the Daily. “We are continuing to closely monitor the situation and are making judgments on a day-to-day basis in response to changing circumstances and information.”

The coronavirus has forced Tufts to adapt to each student’s individual needs.

Tufts has been pretty flexible. They’ve said that even though normally they don’t accept transfer credits from online classes, that if the class had originally been approved to transfer to Tufts, then it will also do so in its online format,” Moore said.

Despite Tufts’ helpfulness, Sbuttoni and Moore had a difficult time with communication on the other end. They’re still trying to figure out their next steps, as well as how this will impact their futures.

Sbuttoni explained that the Brown in Bologna program involves direct enrollment in the University of Bologna. They’re currently putting out a list of courses to take online, but Sbuttoni doesn’t think they will satisfy the requirements of her Italian minor or be worth it for her. 

“I think that I will probably withdraw from the program, get a refund from Brown and drop my Italian minor and probably get some sort of job or internship for the rest of the semester,” Sbuttoni said.

Moore said he found communication from Syracuse to be confusing in the beginning. He is now planning on finishing his online classes from.

“The initial Q & A was quite abrupt: It was just ‘the program is cancelled, get out of the country’,” Moore said. “Syracuse gave the option of going back to Syracuse University in upstate New York and said that they would provide room and board if we wanted to go back there, but it looks like most of us are going to go back to our home states or to Tufts.”

Giuseppi Conte, Italy’s prime minister, announced nationwide restrictions yesterday on travel and public gatherings, effectively placing the country of more than 60 million on lockdown in an attempt to contain the outbreak.

While students studying in affected countries have experienced the most disruption, Tufts is watching the situation closely for how it may impact students on campus as well. They have been in email communication with the entire university and established a website that is frequently updated with the latest information. 

“The health, wellness and safety of our community is our highest priority,” Michelle Bowdler, executive director of Health and Wellness Services, wrote in an email to the Daily. “We want to make sure that students are well-informed and stay healthy, and we’ll continue to provide additional information if our circumstances change.”