Earlier this semester, students studying abroad were taking classes at renowned institutions around the globe. Now, these students, who are taking online classes from their homes, reflect back on what was meant to be one of the most exciting semesters in college.
Provost Wendell Pritchett urged all students studying abroad in Europe, the United Kingdom, and Ireland to return home on March 12 due to coronavirus. Many students have now returned home and self-quarantined for at least 14 days to prevent the spread of coronavirus. While students are disappointed that they did not get the study abroad experience they had imagined, they said they are grateful to be at home, safe with their families.
College and Wharton sophomore Nikhil Gupta left his study abroad program in Barcelona after the State Department advised Americans to come home from overseas on March 19. He immediately booked a flight home to Illinois for approximately $1000, which was reimbursed by Penn Abroad, Gupta said. Gupta said he has self-quarantined for at least 14 days as recommended by Center for Disease Control guidelines after multiple students in his program contracted COVID-19.
"I know it's been disappointing [that study abroad ended early] for a lot of my classmates, myself included, because this is supposed to be the best semester of our lives," Gupta said. "But honestly, I'm just thankful to be home and with my family."
College and Wharton sophomore Jiaqi Song, who was abroad at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, is currently finishing his semester online at his family home in Rome. Song said he does not feel like he is getting the study abroad experience he paid for, as the quality of his online classes is lower than that of his classes at Bocconi.
College and Wharton sophomore Matteo Brunel, who also studied abroad at Bocconi, contacted Student Registration and Financial Services asking for a tuition reduction after Bocconi canceled in-person classes for a few weeks on February 24. Over a month later, he said he has yet to hear from SRFS.
Pritchett wrote that he would be working to ensure students abroad in Europe receive "as much academic credit as possible" for this semester. A full or partial tuition credit will be available to students who receive no or partial academic credit as a result of leaving an abroad program early due to the coronavirus outbreak, Pritchett wrote.
Song said when he is not doing classwork, he has been posting videos to his YouTube channel about his life as a quarantined student in Italy.
"I would say [my study abroad experience] is unexpected, but it's also unique," Song said. "It's a great story to tell my friends when I come back."
Brunel added that his study abroad experience was really great "until people started getting sick left and right."
"While I am bummed that it's certainly over, at the end of the day, there's not much you can do about it except pray that everyone stays safe and hopefully it goes away soon," Brunel said.
College and Wharton junior Joshita Varshney was studying abroad at Singapore Management University until March 22 although Penn gave her the option to return home in early January in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
"It's funny, because I know there's always that classic mantra of 'abroad changed me,' Varshney said. "I don't really feel that change, but I'm really glad to have the experience and be away from campus."
Varshney is now living at home in the Philadelphia suburbs where she has been self-quarantining in her room. She said her family leaves food outside of the room and communicates with her via FaceTime so they can talk.
Wharton junior Janani Kalyan is also self-quarantining at home in Naperville, Illinois, after studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of Sydney. Kalyan decided to come back on March 17 and booked a flight home for four days later which was paid for by Penn. Kalyan said she receives calls from Student Health Services every three days to make sure she is following CDC guidelines about self-quarantine.
Kalyan said the craziest part of her study abroad experience was how rapid the coronavirus situation developed in Sydney.
"That last Friday I had in Sydney was this beautiful 95 degree day and Bondi Beach had like a thousand people there, and it got shut down two days later," Kalyan said.
Brunel said while this was not the way he had imagined his semester abroad to be, he is grateful for the short time he spent in Milan.
“I highly recommend going abroad when there’s not a global pandemic,” Brunel said.
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