All schools abroad in Italy canceled due to coronavirus concerns

By SOPHIA MCDERMOTT-HUGHES

Middlebury has canceled the three C.V. Starr Schools in Italy for this spring semester due to concerns over the coronavirus COVID-19. 

In an email sent to students studying in Florence, Rome and Ferrara on Feb. 29, the college advised students to return to the United States as soon as possible. Each student will have the option to take the semester off and get refunded for the semester’s tuition, or to take online classes taught by professors at Sede Capponi, the Middlebury Center in Florence.

The decision was prompted by concerns that students might face more difficulties leaving the country as the virus spreads and governments impose stricter travel travel regulations, according to Assistant Director of International Programs Alessandra Capossela. The CDC raised the Italy travel advisory to “Level 3 — Avoid Non Essential Travel” on Feb. 28. The next day, the U.S. State Department raised the travel advisory level for Lombardy and Veneto, the epicenter of coronavirus in Italy,  to “Level 4 — Do Not Travel.” 

In January, President Trump placed strict restrictions on travel to and from China, where the virus originated. The college cancelled its schools in Hangzhou, Kunming and Beijing China that month.

Middlebury waited to suspend its programs in Italy even as multiple other universities with programs in Florence told their students to leave the country. Syracuse University announced it was canceling its program on Feb. 24, and both Fairfield University and Elon University followed the next day. On Feb. 24, New York University announced it was evacuating its students and suspending the program until March 29 at the earliest. 

“We know that this decision came as a disappointment to many of our students and their families,” Capossela told The Campus. “We did not make this decision lightly, and it was made with the students’ health and wellbeing as our first priority.”

A prevailing sense of melancholy hangs over the Middlebury Schools in Italy students, according to Marco Kaper ’21, who was studying in Florence.

“A lot of students woke up to the email [on Feb. 29], cried a little bit and then cried a lot. For a lot of people, this is a really big deal,” he said. “They’ve been looking forward to going abroad for a very long time, and that opportunity has been taken away from them.”

However, Kaper understands that leaving the country is also a privilege.

“We are very privileged to be able to leave right now and ‘escape’ the pandemic as far as going to the U.S. is concerned,” said Kaper.  “I live with a native Italian [roomate], and he’s freaking out right now because he doesn’t really have a home to go to to leave like we do.”

Twenty-three students were enrolled in the Middlebury Schools in Italy, including six Middlebury undergraduates, five Middlebury graduate students, and 12 students from other institutions.

Most were studying in Florence, with the exception of one student in Rome and one in Ferrara. On Feb. 24, the college closed its school in Ferrara, prompting the student studying there to transfer to the school in Rome.

Students were not in Italy long before the cancellation. All arrived in Italy by Feb. 9, and classes at Middlebury’s Sede Capponi Center began on Feb. 18.

Some students feel the decision exacerbates overblown fears about contracting the virus. 

“The cancellations were very upsetting because none of us were afraid of getting coronavirus,” Eva Ury ’21.5 said. “The virus wasn’t impacting our daily lives in Florence at all. Only the Middlebury program’s fear of us getting the virus and their liability was affecting us.”

The Sede Capponi Center is set to begin online classes next week, which they will conduct through a mix of recorded lectures and video chats, according to a campus-wide email. Professors and students will have to surmount the logistical hurdle of differing time zones — Ury, for example, plans to remain in Europe and spend the semester traveling, while other students will return to their homes elsewhere. 

The Sede courses are not designed to accommodate students who test into the advanced level of Italian. Those students are normally permitted to take only one class there, and must enroll in two local university courses or one university course and one internship. Those students, should they opt to take the online courses, will have to fit into existing intermediate or graduate level courses, according to Ury.

The college told returning students that they will most likely have to submit to health checks upon arriving in the U.S., but will not have to undergo quarantine unless they fail the screenings. But CDC and U.S. State Department guidelines could change in the upcoming days, according to Capossela. 

Dean of International Programs Carlos Vélez said that decisions to close further schools will depend on a confluence of several factors, including increases in the number of coronavirus cases in the immediate vicinity of a program’s locations, indications that travel options will become limited, advisories from the Department of State and the CDC and decisions by local university partners.

Velez declined to comment on any specific sites that he is considering closing.

“Given the spread of the virus we have to actively monitor every site with [the] possibility [of closing them] in mind,” Vélez said. ”Health and safety are our primary concerns.”