Lizette V. Delgado/ Courier Study abroad students Daphne Herzfeld (left) and Alex Miller (right) on a walking tour on Sunday, March 8, 2020.
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The PCC students and faculty members who traveled to Oxford, UK for a study abroad program were sent home five days into the trip due to changes in international travel procedures intended to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The 19 students paid $9,322 each to participate in the program, which was expected to last the entire Spring semester. 

On Thursday Mar. 12 the study abroad was cancelled when the US State Department issued a Global Level 3 Health Advisory. This advised US citizens to reschedule and reconsider international travel, according to emails from Charlie McLatchie, London’s program manager at The American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS).

The PCC students arrived March 7, and began the orientation process on schedule. 

“On Thursday morning we walked into class to the news that Trump issued a travel ban on European countries,” said Lizette Delgado, a study abroad student. “But the UK was an exception.”

As of Thursday, March 12, the coronavirus was considered a Level 2 threat in the UK. Since Oxford is secluded from other major cities due to its location in the English countryside, the students studying abroad sent a petition to the trip coordinators and dean, explaining their desire and financial need to stay in England. 

The students also explained that they felt safer from the COVID-19 pandemic while they were in the UK, and were covered by the program’s health insurance.

“We felt unsafe going through two international airports [Heathrow airport and LAX] during this crisis and into our home country, where many of us don’t have health insurance,” Delgado said. “With the program we were covered under the NHS [National Health Service], and they had coronavirus testing kits available, which the US didn’t have.”

Later that day, after the students sent out their petition, they received an email about the program’s cancellation. 

“Your school will contact you to let you know how you can complete your courses online.” McLatchie said in the cancellation email, “You will receive a pro rata refund of fees paid to AIFS.”

Students received information the morning of March 13 regarding their flight back to the US, which departed from Heathrow airport and was scheduled to arrive at LAX the following morning. 

“I credit Dr. Endrijonas’ swift thinking to get their tickets changed right before the ban was announced,” said Liesel A. Reinhart, dean of performing arts at PCC. “We are one of hundreds of programs across the country who have also made this decision. As we begin to hear reports of Study Abroad students from other US colleges still in the UK who are testing positive for the virus, it is increasingly clear how dynamically PCC responded to be in the early group of colleges bringing students home.”

According to Reinhart, AIFS is still working to bring thousands of students home from overseas, and has promised to address the refunds starting next week. The number of US colleges who have cancelled study abroad programs continues to grow as we face the COVID-19 global health emergency.

The COVID-19 pandemic has closed many other school campuses around the country, and has forced school officials to cancel many events, including future study abroad programs and live performances.

“We [PCC] also had to cancel our summer study abroad Japan trip, and fall Florence [Italy] trip,” Reinhart explained, “as well as other wonderful events, including the national speech and debate championships, a chambers singing tour of the east coast, opera and production of Hamlet, and dozens of music performances.”

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