Now, Penn students studying abroad in the city in spring 2020 will be unable to live off campus, and will have to live in on-campus housing at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Penn Abroad is currently working in collaboration with travel insurance agency International SOS, its overseas partner universities, and Penn’s Office of International Risk Management to monitor the situation, Associate Director of Penn Abroad Kristyn Palmiotto said.
“[We] are constantly working in collaboration to be sure we have up to date information and are taking appropriate steps to ensure the safety of the Penn community while abroad,” Palmiotto added.
Penn students who have studied in Hong Kong said the city is a great place to learn, but cautioned against studying there currently because of the disruptions caused by protests.
The current political and social unrest in Hong Kong began in June, when people took to the streets to oppose the introduction of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance amendment bill, which would allow local authorities to detain and extradite citizens of Hong Kong to mainland China. The protests have escalated over the past few months, as excessive police violence has angered the protestors.
“We determined that living off campus would not be a safe option because students would not have support services from their host university,” Palmiotto said.
Given the unrest, some students who have previously studied abroad in Hong Kong expressed concerns with studying abroad there now.
“I was able to take really interesting classes and travel over the weekends and met a lot of really cool people,” said College senior Josh Charap, who studied abroad in Hong Kong in spring 2019. “But I would not go [to Hong Kong] now because of the instabilities, and there are many other great options for studying abroad.”
Engineering junior Amy Yeung, who had an internship in Hong Kong during the summer, said the protests did not directly affect her.
"There were a lot of protests happening near my house,” Yeung said. “I lived in between the Hong Kong government building and the Chinese government building, so sometimes the protests would converge in my neighborhood.”
Yeung added that weekdays were normal in Hong Kong and the protests would mostly happen on the weekends.
“Hong Kong is big enough where you can get far away [from the protests]. As long as you don't go to the protests, you are fine,” Yeung said.
College senior Ian Bayer, who studied abroad in Hong Kong in fall 2018, said he is unsure if he would study abroad there during the protests because of their impact on the subway system, which is an affordable and widely-used transportation method.
“I would be really hesitant to study abroad in Hong Kong given that a lot of places where the demonstrations were held would have an impact on the enjoyment of the experience,” Bayer said.
The last Penn study abroad program that was canceled was in fall 2016 in Cape Town, South Africa, because of student protests over the increasing costs of education and inequality in education access, Palmiotto said. Students were given the choice to stay at their host university or return to Penn.
Students that chose to return to Penn were able to complete the program academically through remote learning and proctoring of exams in collaboration with the undergraduate schools and the host university.
Palmiotto said if Penn needed to cancel the study abroad program in Hong Kong, Penn Abroad would work with their travel safety partner to remove students from the location and collaborate with the undergraduate schools and the host university to assess the academic situation.
“Hong Kong remains a very popular location for students interested in studying abroad," Palmiotto said. "But we did have some students, given the current climate, that they were either uncomfortable studying in Hong Kong or concerned that the semester might be disrupted, and chose to pursue other study abroad locations."
In August, Stanford University canceled its study abroad program in Hong Kong for the current semester, citing fears about student safety given the unrest in the city.
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