After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning on Friday against all nonessential travel to Italy, Penn advised all students studying abroad in Milan – the center of Italy's coronavirus outbreak – to leave the country.
Despite Penn's warnings, some Penn students studying in Milan are choosing to stay in the city with the hope their school will reopen.
Soon after the CDC's level three advisory on Feb. 28, Penn Abroad sent an email to students at Bocconi University in Milan offering to help facilitate their early departure from the city and continue their studies online. The email also said students may choose to remain abroad, but must sign an acknowledgment of risk waiver from the University. Bocconi suspended on-campus operations Feb. 24 but hopes to resume normal activities March 9, according to its website.
Despite the Penn Abroad email and the CDC's level three advisory – which is the agency's highest risk level – College and Wharton sophomores Matteo Brunel and Jiaqi Song, who are studying at Bocconi, are choosing to stay in Italy and are optimistic that they will be able to continue their studies in Milan.
Brunel left Milan for Tuscany soon after Bocconi canceled in-person classes. He said he will stay in Italy for the time being and hopes to return to Milan soon to continue his studies. Brunel said he is frustrated at the prospect of completing his credits remotely and finds online classes "dry and boring."
“Not going to class takes away my favorite part of going to school, which is talking to people and interacting with the teachers and your classmates,” Brunel said. “You don't go abroad to [learn online]. If you want to do classes online, you can just do that from your home.”
Penn Abroad email sent to Bocconi students regarding COVID-19 rating change to CDC Level 3
Brunel said he is frustrated that he has already paid for a full semester's tuition. He said he has contacted Student Registration and Financial Services asking for a tuition reduction after Bocconi cancelled in-person classes for a few weeks, but has yet to receive a response.
"The real issue is how Penn is going to adjust the tuition for the semester – it’s not fair because you’re paying Penn tuition, and you go to a different university, [especially when] I only stayed there for a month," Brunel said. "I feel like something has to be changed."
Brunel said Penn needs to be more efficient with their communication to Bocconi students, as he and others in his program are feeling panicked about whether they will be able to finish their credits for the semester.
"Everyone is freaking out literally — there’s not enough information, and the little information there is is not being disseminated quickly enough," he said. “Penn Abroad could do a better job of communication by looping parents in as well as talking directly to the host university to see what the academic offerings would be."
Song also said Penn Abroad's email was unclear.
"I think Penn Abroad has been very prompt in their response, but not professional enough in the sense that the instructions given were not very clear," Song said. "[It seems like that] they are awaiting for further information as well."
Song left Milan after Bocconi canceled classes to stay with his parents, who live in Rome. For now, he said he will remain with his family until Bocconi resumes in-person classes next week.
Though Song and Brunel are not planning to return to the United States in the near future, Brunel said other students in his program are leaving immediately because they are worried they will be unable to exit Italy.
After the CDC warning, the United States raised its travel warning for Italy to level four, the highest risk level, urging Americans to refrain from traveling to the country entirely. Airlines like Delta Air Lines and American Airlines canceled flights to and from Italy earlier on Sunday.
There have been 1,700 reported cases of coronavirus and 34 deaths in Italy as of March 1.
Penn Abroad could not be reached for comment at the time of publication, but directed The Daily Pennsylvanian to their webpage, which provides general information about coronavirus for students studying in affected countries. According to the website, Penn will only facilitate students' early departure from countries with a CDC level three warning – which currently only applies to China, South Korea, Iran, and Italy.
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