Coronavirus interrupts education, preventing some Chinese and domestic students from attending spring semester

When Patrick Chang’s phone dinged with a group chat notification over J-term, he didn’t think anything of it while sitting in his Bejing, China home.

But when the Augustana sophomore looked closer, he saw it was a Reuters news article about the coronavirus outbreak, informing him that he wouldn’t be returning to Augustana for his spring semester with all flights out of China canceled for the foreseeable future.

Chang had returned to Beijing for winter break and remained there for J-term to spend time with his family. He had scheduled a flight back to the United States for Feb. 3, but found out two days before he was due to leave that his flight was canceled. 

What is the coronavirus?

The novel, or new, coronavirus causes a respiratory illness that includes fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

In older adults, young children and individuals with weakened immune systems, coronavirus can cause life-threatening pneumonia and even result in death.

Coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in late 2019, according to the CDC. While unsure of the exact cause, the coronavirus can be spread by both animal-to-human and human-to-human contact.

So far, there have been a reported 42,708 diagnosed cases of coronavirus in China, with the death toll surpassing 1,100, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Thirteen cases have been reported in the United States, according to the CDC.

Hitting close to home

Ben Iverson, director of international programs (IPO), said the coronavirus has been an unprecedented global epidemic. 

However, Chang isn’t the only Augustana student affected. One other Chinese student is unable to return for the spring semester because of the travel ban.

“The other thing I’m cognizant of is that we do have about 25 Chinese students on campus,” Iverson said. “Most of them are from Beijing, which is a long way from Wuhan, where the epicenter of the coronavirus is. I don’t know if [those] students have relatives affected from the virus.”

Although Iverson has confirmed that none of the Chinese students on campus are ill, he says the IPO has been reaching out to the students in case they need additional support.

Voluntary isolation

For Chang, it’s not the inability to return or the semester-long academic delay that is affecting him; it’s the constant isolation.

“I can leave anytime I want, but my parents won’t let me,” Chang said. “It’s dangerous outside, so I’ve been staying inside.

Chang said that people are working online from home, students are taking classes online and that small businesses are losing money from a lack of customers.

He also said Chinese citizens wear masks when they leave their houses and are being forced to fight for food at markets.

“I went to buy some groceries a few days ago, but they were out of stock,” Chang said.

Chang said he spends his days stuck inside playing video games and watching movies and TV shows. He hopes to return to Augustana for the fall semester.

But it’s not just international students

The two Chinese students who are unable to return for spring semester are not the only Augie students who have been indirectly affected by the coronavirus.

Junior Ellie Ronning had plans to spend her spring semester abroad in Shanghai, China. However, she was informed just days before her flight was supposed to take off that her academic program had been canceled.

“It’s very sad. It’s been hard for me to adjust to coming back because I had mentally prepared myself for a whole semester [in China],” Ronning said.

Ronning will now spend her spring semester at Augie and has no plans to study abroad in the future, due to her biochemistry and physics major requirements.

“It sucks, but I’m safe and I’m here,” Ronning said. “Also, everyone here [at Augie] has been wonderful and accommodating, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I can’t control a virus.”

Future for current and incoming students is uncertain

Iverson hopes the coronavirus and its effects will be resolved before the end of the school year but remains realistic.

“The truth is that we don’t know. If it continues to spread the way that it is, it’s possible that the travel ban and canceled flights could continue beyond spring semester. We’re monitoring, and we’ll deal with that if and when it happens.”

Iverson said he is confident the IPO will be able to assist these students with housing or travel if they are not able to return to China at the end of May.

The IPO typically takes an annual recruitment trip to China but is unsure if this year’s trip will happen. If they are unable to go, Iverson said it may affect future international enrollment.

“For Augustana, I think it depends on if we’re able to go [to China] in June because historically, that’s been our most successful recruitment trip every year. I’m a little bit worried about that,” Iverson said.

Despite the current concerns of the coronavirus and future travel plans, Iverson urges the rest of the campus to support their fellow Augie students.

“I would particularly ask American students to go out of their way to engage Chinese students. Not just to ask them about the coronavirus but to find out about other aspects of their lives,” Iverson said. “I think, as a community, that’s something we can do so it’s not just the institution or IPO supporting students. We can all support these students and make them feel welcome.”

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