On Wednesday, Kenyon sent out an email to all students studying abroad in Europe and the United Kingdom requiring them to come home as soon as possible. This came on the heels of President Trump’s announcement to the nation earlier in the night, in which he said that the United States will be placing a 30-day travel ban on flights from many parts of Europe to the United States (excluding the United Kingdom) coming into effect at midnight on Friday to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Although Trump announced that American citizens would be allowed back during the ban with additional screening, many airline companies started canceling flights upon hearing the news, putting additional strain on Americans scrambling to get home before the deadline.
According to the March 11 email, the College is giving students currently abroad until March 19 to pack up their things and return to the U.S. The email goes on to say that students should make immediate plans to depart from their programs and host countries.
For Kenyon students abroad, the College’s announcement has elicited mixed reactions. While some students are prepared for a swift departure, others are struggling to grapple with the expedited timeline and uncertain travel arrangements.
Elizabeth Barrowman ’21 has been put in an exceptionally precarious position because of the College’s sudden directive. Barrowman, whose program was just making the transition to Vienna, Austria after spending two months in Berlin, Germany, has had to spend extra money to book a flight in time for the March 19 deadline. As a student from a low-income household, she was unprepared to make last-minute plans that would carry such an extreme financial burden.
“What is really frustrating is there’s still no information from Kenyon on how I’m supposed to be reimbursed for this ticket,” she wrote in a message to the Collegian. “There’s about a $500 difference between the flight I’m taking now and the one I would have taken at the end of my program. I had to stay up all night packing so that I could get everything done.”
Barrowman wrote this message in the midst of a 12-hour wait at the Stockholm airport for her next flight to Chicago and then another to Columbus, where she resides. She still hopes to hear back from Kenyon regarding plans for reimbursement and other concerns she expressed.
“I finally got a response from Kenyon that basically said they need more time before they can tell me anything,” she said. “I understand that the situation is unprecedented and rapidly changing but I just don’t think that this is an acceptable answer when I asked multiple concrete questions.”
Paige Hettinger ’21, who returned from her program in Copenhagen on Thursday, has had more luck in covering the extra costs of returning sooner than expected. Her program offered to provide up to $300 for flight changes, and she hopes Kenyon will do the same.
“I’m incredibly fortunate that I had the ability to just buy a plane ticket and leave, and I know that’s not the situation for every Kenyon student abroad or even for every student abroad in general,” she wrote in a message to the Collegian. “I hope that for any student who needed financial assistance, Kenyon was able to meet their needs fully, because this isn’t something anyone could have anticipated becoming the massive and sudden issue that it is.”
Like many other U.S. citizens returning to the country, Hettinger is now self-quarantined at her home in Virginia due to her recent travels to Italy. Returning citizens may be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days—depending where they are coming from—to help contain the spread of the virus.
“I had been out of Italy for 13 days, so they didn’t know exactly what to do, but they were extra cautious and had me report my travel to the authorities there,” Hettinger said. “They took my temperature and asked me to self-quarantine at home, which I was going to do anyway, and just to monitor myself. They weren’t restrictive, but I could sense the US definitely had their guard up.”
Other students abroad were taken aback by the College’s abrupt change of plans, particularly the discrepancies between the emails sent out on Tuesday and Wednesday. One Tuesday email to all students and employees (another was sent only to students studying abroad) stated that Kenyon’s “decision to suspend travel does not apply to off-campus study,” and that no students would be prohibited from an off-campus study program “unless the provider suspends it.” This is a stark difference from the email students received the following day, which urged them to come home immediately.
Reilly Wieland ’21, who was studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland for the semester, said the first email she received from the Center for Global Engagement (CGE) was also vague about the College’s contingency plans for off-campus study students.
“In their first email from the CGE, they said, ‘emergency preparedness is real,’ and they seemed almost condescending, and then their next email was like, ‘We’re sending you all home,’” she said. “It was very classic Kenyon to be like, ‘This is on you, if you get sick it’s your fault,’ and then after that be like, ‘Come home now.’ It was a strange situation more than anything. It felt a little bit surreal, to be honest.”
At the same time, Wieland said she could understand where the College was coming from, but she still wished they would’ve been more clear about handling the situation. “I think the whole situation just felt a little bit poorly managed and they didn’t seem to update us a whole lot,” she added.
Still, other students have had an easier time adjusting to the College’s announcement. Carter Vivio ’21, who was studying abroad in Paris, had already arranged to leave when the announcement from Kenyon came. He had worked with both his program, Center for University Programs Abroad (CUPA) Paris, and Kenyon’s Office of the Registrar to make arrangements for continuing his studies online once he returned. Vivio had a flight booked for Monday, March 16 and was in the process of preparing to leave.
Then, while Vivio slept, Trump made his announcement at 2 a.m. Central European Time. “I woke up some four hours later to my phone having probably a dozen messages from friends and family wondering how I’m going to get out,” Vivio told the Collegian in a call from a hotel room in Charles De Gaulle airport. “My parents [texted that] ‘Trump is closing the border after Friday. You’re coming home [this] morning. Start packing your bags,’ and said ‘call me no matter what time it is, I’ll pick up the phone.’”
Vivio called his dad at 6 a.m. Central European Time—1 a.m. in St. Petersburg, Fla., where his family resides. “I had basically just found myself in a packing frenzy. I spent the next two hours just trying to gut my room entirely and throw it all in a suitcase,” Vivio said. “My host mother is like ‘what’s happening,’ and I said ‘I have to leave tomorrow, Trump is restricting travel from Europe.’”
He then went to his program’s offices to alert them of his new travel situation, where he found several other students doing the same. “It was like a travel agency waiting room,” he said. “Everybody scrambling to find a way out.”
Vivio plans to fly to Miami tomorrow morning, where he will travel home to Florida. Luckily, his program will provide him with online courses to finish the semester, and he will receive all the necessary credits both for his Modern Languages and Literature major and his other courses.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all students departing from their programs. According to Wednesday’s announcement, the College will be working with students’ programs “regarding courses,” but students will have to wait until they return for specific details and instructions. It also notes that Kenyon will accept credit from “remote learning options” already being implemented by certain off-campus study programs.
“We will work with you on figuring out courses, credits, etc, once you have returned home,” the email sent to abroad students reads. “I know that you will have many questions and we will work to answer them. Our first priority is to have you return to the US.”
Off-campus study students have been encouraged to direct their questions and concerns to the CGE. The College has also created an FAQ with updated information about their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.