Coronavirus Fears Prompt Abroad Evacuations

Kate Jasenski, a second-year member of the Global Scholar cohort in the School of International Relations, was studying abroad at Korea University until the threat of coronavirus prompted a nation-wide evacuation of international students. Now, eight weeks into the semester at American, she’s had to take a leave of absence and sees no probable way to go back to Korea to study. 

Her Campus American University: Did you receive any precautionary warnings about the outbreak of coronavirus while you were in Korea?

Kate Jasenski: Simply put, no. American University didn’t give me any advanced notice or precautionary warning. I first arrived in Korea on the 18th of Month, when there were about 18 cases that I was aware of at the time. As time went on, though, I initiated communication with the University, but as far as the advanced warning goes, no. 

HCAU: Was there a sense of panic in Korea over the growing number of coronavirus cases?

KJ: When I first arrived in Korea there wasn’t a visible sense of panic. People were trying to remain inside and avoid extended amounts of contact with others. This actually worked out for me, as I got to tour some of Seoul’s attractions without the craziness that crowds tend to bring. One day my friend and I toured a grand palace in Seoul. It was completely empty except for us. It wasn’t until my last week in Korea that panic really set in. My apartment was set right above a pharmacy and on my final day in Korea, there was a line wrapped around the block as people were trying to buy face masks. 

HCAU: How was your program in Korea affected before the eventual evacuation notice?

KJ: Initially, I found out that international student orientation was canceled. That was the first sign of trouble. Then the start of the semester at Korea University was pushed back two weeks. This was all information that I found out from other international students, who were told by Korean students. Eventually, I got an email from American, last Wednesday, stating that all abroad programs in Korea would be canceled and that we were to return to the United States. Now Korean Universities are officially starting class on the 16th online, until the beginning of April. Now, all British and American students were called back, but Japanese and Chinese students were the only international students left at the end.

HCAU: Did American provide any form of financial assistance in getting you back to the United States?

KJ: Initially, American offered to reimburse me for any traveling expenses. I was originally looking at flights coming back to the US on Wednesday, but with American’s offer to reimburse me I decided to fly back earlier. I flew back on Monday and later it was announced that American Airlines would now be canceling flights to South Korea. 

HCAU: Were there any quarantine procedures put into place when you arrived back in the United States?

KJ: Not really. Our flight landed in the United States 10 hours before the mandatory quarantine rule went into place. The only sense of security was a questionnaire that American Airlines had sent out inquiring if we were presenting any symptoms and if we had traveled to any of the severely impacted areas of outbreak. When I had been in Korea, there were more security checks in a mall I visited than in any of the airports I flew through. Officials in hazmat suits were checking people’s temperatures, a measure not taken by any airport or airline. 

HCAU: Did American University or the School of International Relations offer any alternative ways for you to make up credits for the semester?

KJ: I was told that I could potentially do 6-9 credit hours of independent study classes to fulfill the East Asian regional focus requirements or I could take a leave of absence. In reality, there are only 4 courses for East Asian studies listed on the course registration page, with only one taught above the 200 level, which is quite inadequate. However, I eventually chose to take the second option because I felt that if I had taken all of my regional focus classes in a self-study environment, I would essentially be teaching myself the major in entirety.

HCAU: What do you plan to do now with your leave of absence? Do you have any plans for keeping yourself busy until Fall comes around?

KJ: I might go back to work full time at a job in my hometown. I used to do data entry for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s construction office. Otherwise, I might try to audit some classes at UW Madison or continue tutoring English. As a freshman, I came in with almost a full year of credit, so in the summer I will probably only have to take 9 credit hours to make up for the loss of classes in Korea. 

Since Kate’s evacuation from South Korea on the 2nd of March, American University has upped its response to the further spread of coronavirus abroad. Issued last night at 9:55 PM, American University has suspended all university sponsored-travel until further notice, in accordance with CDC guidelines. This includes Alternative Break programs that were hours away from beginning their Spring Break trip. Additionally, American stated that students who are abroad currently in countries that have Level 2 or below travel advisories will remain in place. For those who applied for Summer 2020 or Fall 2020 study abroad programs, there still remains a great deal of apprehension and uncertainty about their trips being canceled as well.

Photo: Her Campus Media