NY State and CUNY advise study abroad students to come back, some students prefer to stay

Joel+C.+Bautista+%7C+The+Ticker

Joel C. Bautista | The Ticker

Ayse Kelce

With the recent increase in COVID-19 cases across the world, especially in Europe and the United States, CUNY advised all study abroad students to return to the United States.

Toward the end of February, study abroad students received an informative email from Baruch College’s Study Abroad Office about COVID-19 and ways to prevent contracting the virus. 

According to students who received the email, it stated that study abroad programs would not be cancelled, except for those in China. However, the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus increased globally over the course of a few days.

“We got another email on March 2, from our director explaining that even though the virus has spread to 58 countries at the time, neither CUNY nor Baruch planned on recalling students,” explained Maria Mertaka, a Baruch junior studying abroad at the Vienna University of Business and Economics in Austria.

“They once again assured us that it was still safe to remain abroad, but that we also had the option to return if we wanted to — as our school would work with the partner universities we were currently at, in order to find a way to salvage our credits.”

Baruch junior Heather Shah said that she knew about the coronavirus cases in South Korea, where she went for study abroad, before even arriving in the country. 

However, she said that the travel advisory warning was still a Level 1. For the first two weeks, Shah’s classes were online. Then, the study abroad students received another email suggesting they come back.

“We could stay but we would lose the chartered flight from the state,” Shah said. “However, the Baruch study abroad office was very helpful, accessible and informative when every source from the state, Twitter, and school were giving varied responses.”

Baruch’s Study Abroad Office suggested that students come back and offered advice for those who wanted to stay.

Mertaka was only able to attend one class before Vienna University switched to online classes starting March 11 until April 14. She booked a flight to New York for March 13 before U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement of 30-day suspension on travel from Europe.

“Once we all heard the president’s plans to not accept flights from Europe everyone started to panic. People I knew who were in different countries all started booking flights back to New York. On March 12, we received an email from both CUNY and our Study Abroad Director urging students to come back,” Mertaka said. 

CUNY suggested that students studying abroad self-isolate for two weeks once they returned.

According to Merteka, CUNY did offer to help students who couldn’t self-isolate at home by providing car service from the airport to the dorms where they are offering rooms to self-quarantine.

Merkaka is currently staying in the dorms.

“People here working for CUNY are doing their best to keep us as comfortable as possible. They bring us meals, any supplies we might need, and as of 10 minutes ago they will have a nurse check in with us twice, daily. They were available at late hours as well, as we arranged my transfer and arrival at 12 a.m.,” she said about her experience. 

Some students, like Mertaka, decided to come back to the United States while some students decided to stay for several reasons.

“I really didn’t want to leave, but seeing that Austria is now almost on complete lockdown, I’m glad I’m back home.  I have a return flight back to Austria for April 7, right before regular class format begins, but by the looks of it, I don’t think classes will be resuming by then. Luckily my school is offering all exchange students the option to continue the rest of the semester  through online classes,” Mertaka said.

Other students who were in Austria also decided to come back after hearing the strict measures being imposed in the country.

On the other side, Shah decided to stay in South Korea during the coronavirus outbreak. She was appreciative of how the South Korean government handled the situation, leading the world in number of tests and succeeding to flatten the curve. 

“The government was very proactive and transparent with their approach as well. It was reassuring. I didn’t panic because I researched a lot about the virus before and after coming,” Shah said.

Similarly, Kathrin Deda, a Baruch junior studying abroad in Amsterdam, decided to stay during the coronavirus pandemic.

“My parents told me it’s safer for me to stay in Amsterdam then to come back to New York City. New York State alone has way more cases then the Netherlands,” Deda said. 

Deda is also concerned about her parents’ pre-existing health conditions. 

“It would be a great risk that I’m not willing to take to be quarantined at home with them,” she said. 

She also appreciated that Baruch did not force her to come back, as opposed to some colleges that required the students to return.

“I saw all my friends go one by one to the United States because mainly their university forced them to. If they had an option to stay, they would have stayed as well like me,” Deda said, and added that she was frustrated that her experience was cut short.

Even though the study abroad experience was interrupted for many students, some of them said they still enjoyed the experience.

“I have not been deprived of the cultural and academic experience as many may assume,” Shah said. “So far it has been a very intriguing and revealing experience that I am grateful for.”

The Study Abroad Office is still accepting applications for programs abroad for the Fall 2020 semester. 

“We are treating applications to study abroad for fall 2020 programs as if the novel coronavirus did not exist,” said an email sent by Dr. Richard Mitten, director of study abroad, on March 19.

Applicants are being strongly encouraged to apply for at least three different programs abroad.

“Given the Global Level 4 Health Advisory issued by the Department of State earlier today, there is currently no place to which we would currently send students for a study abroad experience, but we do not expect this situation to last indefinitely,” Mitten’s email also stated. 

All Baruch students applying for study abroad programs are also advised to enroll in classes at Baruch in case the coronavirus pandemic keeps affecting colleges into the fall.

Editor’s Note: Heather Shah is a Ticker production assistant