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UMaine study abroad students face disruption in their semester plans because of COVID-19

While many members of the University of Maine student body have experienced displacement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some students have had their semester abroad cut short in the face of growing COVID-19 concerns. With their programs shut down, itineraries have been in disorder, leaving this group of students feeling confused, frustrated and out of place.

Michaela Wright studied abroad in Torino, Italy, and her international program was canceled on Feb. 29, much earlier than others, because of the conditions of the pandemic in the country. Wright was in Budapest, Hungary when she received word about the cancellation, and she arrived back in Torino the next day, packed her belongings and left Italy within 24 hours. Wright shared that she didn’t even get to say goodbye to everyone in her program because everyone left so quickly to avoid getting stuck in the country.

Quinn Galletta is a third-year political science and journalism student at UMaine. She had planned to study at Hirosaki University in the Aomori Prefecture in Japan, and her semester would begin on April 2. At the beginning of March, around the time that COVID-19 was labeled a pandemic, her host university contacted her and told her that she could continue with her plans to go to Japan. However, the university clarified that it could not guarantee that there would be enough students to hold exams in the school’s courses at the end of the semester.

“I chose not to go, mainly because I knew the situation in Japan was getting worse and if I went, I ran the chance of either getting sick or not being able to begin classes,” Galletta said.

On March 10, Chancellor Dannell Molloy released a public statement that said that all locations that are part of the University of Maine System would be “prohibiting all university-sponsored non-essential air travel and is strongly encouraging students, faculty, and staff to avoid personal travel to any domestic or international areas with known COVID-19 cases or community transmission of the disease.” The university also stated that they would continue to operate their spring 2020 study abroad programs in all locations except for programs in China, South Korea and Italy. On March 12, the University of Maine System announced that all of its study abroad programs would be canceled and students would be returning home by March 20.

Emily Sprecher, a third-year civil engineering student at UMaine arrived in Australia on Feb. 23 to study abroad at Deakin University. After about three weeks, she heard about UMaine’s transition to remote learning. She discussed with her family, host university and UMaine officials and decided that she would stay in Australia, to complete her studies because she decided that it would be safer to remain in place rather than travel at the time.

Days later, Deakin University switched to remote learning. Sprecher and her peers continued their studies in Australia, but as the news surrounding COVID-19 became evermore pessimistic and flights became limited, she decided to return home.

While many college students have had to adjust to changes, study abroad students like Wright, Galletta and Sprecher are dealing with exceptionally challenging circumstances.

Galletta’s semester had yet to begin, so she has been staying at home with her parents in Central Maine, splitting her time between working at a restaurant and acting as the Editor in Chief of UMaine’s chapter of Her Campus, an online magazine with content submitted by female-bodied college students. She said that she has experienced mixed feelings about the whole situation, as she is disappointed when she thinks about her missed experiences in Japan, but she feels that she made the right decision.

“I know that if I had been able to go to Japan, it very quickly would have turned into a stressful situation that would have caused me more emotional strife and pain in the long run,” Galletta shared.

Sprecher’s semester also took a drastic detour from what she had planned. She moved back home and is still completing her studies at Deakin University, remotely.

“I’ve found it extremely difficult to find motivation and remain focused when studying at home. The time difference of 14 hours has made live online lectures very frustrating. I’ve attempted to adjust my sleep schedule to attend my lectures from 10 p.m. [to] midnight or 1 [to] 3 a.m. but have found that I’m often too tired to be productive or absorb information anyway,” Sprecher said.

“My situation is so different from other [traditional] students because my program was one of the last ones to leave,” Galletta said. “Right now it’s hard because I’m also having to reconcile financial plans. Any refund that I received this semester from my financial aid has yet to be returned… leaving me only with the money I earned waitressing these past few months.”

Wright shared that she is devastated that she did not get to complete one of her life goals, which was to study abroad.

“Even though I was only in Italy for 2 months, I can confidently say those were the best two months of my life,” Wright said. “I would recommend studying abroad to any college student, especially in a country that speaks a different language.”

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