Amid bloody protests that disrupted everyday life in Hong Kong, Penn mandated that its three undergraduate students studying abroad at partner universities leave the city. Two Penn Law students remain in Hong Kong, however, and are not leaving their programs early.
All of Penn’s partner universities in Hong Kong suspended in-person coursework and shifted to an online setting for the rest of the term, Penn Abroad Associate Director Kristyn Palmiotto said.
“We determined that [removing students from Hong Kong] would be the safest, given that the campuses were not functioning as they had prior,” Palmiotto said.
The wave of protests in Hong Kong began in June after the government planned to pass a law allowing extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China. Mass protest followed, overwhelming the streets and leading to violent clashes with police.
Palmiotto said administrators have not yet determined whether next semester’s study abroad program will be canceled, but students who say they are concerned about the rising unrest can opt to study elsewhere.
“All students planning on studying abroad in Hong Kong for Spring 2020 had received communication from our office, walking them through their options,” Palmiotto said. “Any student that expressed concerns about pursuing Hong Kong in the spring had been offered to pursue an alternative in the spring.”
Wharton junior Colette Gordon, who was studying abroad at the Chinese University of Hong Kong this fall semester, said the protests did not affect her experience in Hong Kong until the beginning of October.
“Around the Chinese National Day, the MTR station near the campus was closed for three days straight, and that impacted my experience just because that's how we leave our campus in CUHK typically,” Gordon said.
Gordon said the situation worsened around mid-November, when there were protests around the CUHK campus and barricades formed around the area occupied by protesters.
"When I found out about what was happening around our campus, I knew that I needed to leave as soon as possible," Gordon said, referencing the confrontation between police and protesters late Tuesday night.
“I called the U.S. embassy to see what help they can give me about leaving campus and Hong Kong, but they just told me that they are aware of what is happening and are only interested if you are injured or arrested,” Gordon said.
Gordon later decided to leave the university campus with her suite-mate from Italy, with the help of the Italian embassy in Hong Kong.
“Later on, I tried to contact International SOS, the insurance company that Penn partnered with, to help me get my stuff from campus, but they said they weren’t able to find any company willing to do that, which is understandable given the situation,” Gordon said.
Gordon is now home in the United States.
Third-year Penn Law students Kelsey Lee and Joanna Kamhi are both still studying at the University of Hong Kong, Lee wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. Their classes are currently suspended and are only available online, but the campus is still open, Lee wrote.
"We’re not leaving early," Lee wrote. Lee wrote that Penn Law administrators have been in contact with her and Kamhi, offering to pay to change their flights to leave earlier and highly encouraging the two to leave. Lee wrote it was never mandated that they leave Hong Kong.
Associate Dean of the College and Director of Academic Affairs Kent Peterman said the College Office, Penn’s Office of International Risk Management, and Penn Abroad worked alongside International SOS and the individual partner universities to determine safety protocols in Hong Kong.
Peterman said students need to be responsible for making decisions on whether or not they want to take the risk.
“We wouldn’t just say, 'Don’t worry and just go,' but I would say that every student has to assess for themselves whether they want to step into an environment where there had been turmoil recently,” Peterman said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that two Penn Law students returned from their study abroad program in Hong Kong, when, in fact, the students did not return and are currently in Hong Kong. The DP regrets this error.