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Students abroad scramble to return home during COVID-19 pandemic

By Clara Lee

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools and universities have been closing all over the world, including in France. 21-year-old Hans Frank-Holzner, a junior at Concordia College, has been on a semester-long study abroad program in Tours, France, but had to return home early on Sunday, March 15th because of  these recent events.

“My initial study abroad timeline was from January 6th until May 27th, but I have to leave early, so now it’s January 6th through March 15th,” Holzner said.

Like Concordia, many universities are moving into an online format for the safety of their staff and students, including the University of Tours in France. According to Holzner, the University of Tours is now closed until further notice with the goal of moving towards an online platform.

“It’s still up in the air right now, but what I’ve heard is that they’re going to try to help all of the professors give their same classes online, but it’s sort of a case-by-case scenario,” he said.

In Holzner’s case, certain professors at the University of Tours are already looking at several different options to move their classes online, while others are not as willing to do so. If Holzner is unable to finish his abroad courses, then he is at risk for not being able to complete his graduation requirements on time and might lose the credits that he was on his way to obtaining this semester. In addition to the stress of fulfilling graduation requirements, Holzner was also only given two days notice for his return home and encountered complications for securing a plane ticket back to the states. Holzner received an email from Concordia’s Global Learning program, warning him that he might have to return home in the next few days if the pandemic continued to get worse, and that is exactly what happened two days later.

“It’s a little bit shocking to, you know, learning that you’re going to have to make a cross-cultural transition in 2 days,” Holzner said. “I found out yesterday that I was going to have to leave, and I’m leaving on Sunday.”

Although the process of returning to the states with his abroad experience being cut short has been exhausting and stressful, Concordia has been very helpful and accommodating with the situation at hand by providing assistance in purchasing plane tickets or additional resources if needed.

“Concordia Global Learning notified me that they would be willing to ideally reimburse me for any expenses, or that if I didn’t have the money they would somehow find a way to pay for it right away, so they were very willing to accommodate, which I appreciated but it ended up being unnecessary,” Holzner said.

Another junior at Concordia, 20-year old Hikma Yassim, is an international student who is also studying abroad in France this semester but is unable to return to the U.S. due to President Trump’s travel ban.

“Trump’s travel ban restricts me from flying to the U.S. from Europe. Consequently, I am travelling to my home country Ethiopia instead, and I’ll spend 14 days there and after, I can return to the U.S. unless something else happens within that time frame. We are in such a chaotic time,” Yassim said.

Both students are disappointed that their study abroad experiences have been cut short, but agree that it is necessary to return home due to the circumstances that the world is facing at this point in time.

After returning home, Holzner plans to self-quarantine either in his home town or at one of Concordia’s dormitories for the next two weeks or more, depending on whether he shows symptoms of the coronavirus or not. In regards to finishing his courses this semester, he is planning on continuing them online if possible, although currently there is some uncertainty about whether this will happen. Even though recent events might discourage students from studying abroad in the future, Holzner still highly encourages all Concordia students to take advantage of Global Learning’s study abroad programs once the virus and aftermath of the pandemic is under control.

“I think that if you want to be responsibly engaged in the world you have to have a cross-cultural experience, it doesn’t have to be a semester or year-long program but you have to get outside of your own perspective and doing it abroad is an excellent way of doing that,” Holzner said.

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