Several students studying in UK universities who are due to be completing their years abroad in Italy have been asked to return home due to fears of coronavirus.
At the time of writing, there are over 3,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Italy and 11 towns in the north of the country are on lock-down. GOV.UK is currently advising against all but essential travel to 10 small towns in the region of Lombardy as well as one in Veneto. No official governmental advice has been issued towards British citizens or students at UK universities and due to the lack of clarity in the news, different universities have been taking different measures.
It is unclear what the implications of this will be for students studying abroad in Italy. Most students undertaking a languages degree are required to spend their third year studying abroad (the minimum period of time differs between universities) and many other degrees offer the opportunity to spend a semester or a year studying abroad, commonly through the Erasmus program. Spending time studying or on a work placement abroad is recognised as a great opportunity for students to develop their intercultural awareness and transferable skills. However, many students in Italy are finding their time in the country cut short.
Universities have been dealing with the situation with different approaches. Áine Madden, Spanish and Italian student at the University of Glasgow studying abroad in the Università di Bologna, stated that “U of G has handled the whole thing so expertly”. She then went on to detail the immediate response to the crisis:
Initially, UNIBO (università di bologna) sent us an email last Sunday saying classes were off for a week because of coronavirus and then the number of cases spiralled. Then the next day, we got an email from UofG. Essentially they just told us that they were in complete support of us wanting to return to Scotland early, and that the 6 months we had already done in Italy would suffice for our YA requirement.
However, the abrupt end to the year abroad has also taken an emotional toll on students. Madden continues, ‘I’m absolutely heartbroken that I’ve had to leave Bologna. Never in a million years did I think that something like this would’ve happened.’
A University of Southampton student studying Spanish, German and Italian on their year abroad in the Università di Padova stated that: ‘It was actually neither the University of Padua, in Italy, nor the University of Southampton that instructed me to return to the UK.’ They then detailed how they had returned to the UK to visit family before the coronavirus spread to Italy. The student then spoke to staff at the university who ‘agreed that it would be best for me to await further notice.’ On 6th March, the university sent out an email requesting that all students working or studying abroad in Italy return to the UK.
Universities across Italy have also been dealing with the situation in different ways. The Università di Bologna have suspended classes until further notice and have made 30-40% of classes available online. The Università di Padova has closed both the university and university services, and is asking students to await further information. As with the Università di Bologna, some classes are being made available online.
In the year of Brexit-related uncertainty and riots across Hong Kong, coronavirus is the latest problem impacting student’s years abroad. With widespread uncertainty surrounding the disease in Italy and the rest of Europe, it is not clear what the future holds for students on placements abroad.