Coronavirus puts UNC study abroad programs at risk

Coronavirus puts UNC study abroad programs at risk

Read in The Daily Tar Heel 2/4/20

Kayla Haeussler wants to work in supply chain operations for a Chinese manufacturing firm. 

Now a sophomore at UNC, Haeussler has been writing application essays, practicing her language skills and researching an overseas internship — all for a UNC study abroad program in Shanghai. 

But her plans might be put on pause by a current health emergency in Asia. 

The 2019-nCoV strain of the coronavirus — an illness that broke out in China late last year — is a respiratory illness that can be fatal. Over 20,000 cases have been confirmed globally, with 11 cases confirmed in the United States. 

The trip Haeussler is applying for is scheduled for this coming June through August. 

But now, after the University issued an advisory halting non-essential travel to China, she’s considering that the program she’s been planning for might be canceled. 

Andrew Hunt, UNC Global Operations specialist, said there have been many thoughtful discussions among University leaders about the travel decision. 

Hunt said the U.S. Department of State is the University’s primary source of information on public health concerns, although the University is not required to align with the state department’s decision. But in this case, Hunt and his colleagues have followed suit with the State department warnings. 

This includes avoiding all nonessential travel to China, especially to the Hubei Province, where the virus originated. 

“At this moment, we are considering essential travel for professionals who are going to China specifically to address this issue,” he said. “This includes faculty and staff.”

Hunt said all study abroad programs to the area have been temporarily suspended. He said he recognizes the risk of epidemic with the virus. 

Haeussler understands the virus is very contagious, she said, but is also treatable — similar to the flu. She thinks xenophobia might be playing a role in the public narrative about the illness. 

“It’s really not as bad as people are making it seem,” Haeussler said. “It’s more of a liability for the University.”

The populations in China most affected by the coronavirus, Haeussler said, are those with weakened immune systems who are vulnerable due to poor health care. 

It is expected to be about a year before a vaccine is developed for the virus, according to CNBC. 

Hunt said the timeline for when travel concerns to China might be lifted is unclear.

“We don’t know if it’s going to continue to grow,” Hunt said. 

The Kenan-Flagler Business School and the Hussman School of Journalism and Media offer a number of study abroad opportunities in China and nearby Asian countries.

Liana Pinner — director of Global, Immersive and Professional Programs at Hussman — said the school offers a semester abroad at the University of Hong Kong and a short-term course in Beijing, Shaghai, and Hong Kong during Maymester.   

There are no Hussman students in China or Hong Kong this semester, she said. She said the one student who had planned on traveling there withdrew following news of the widespread protests in Hong Kong.

Pinner said the coronavirus outbreak might affect the number of applicants to the upcoming Maymester trip, but other programs, such as a planned trip to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics, will not be impacted.

She said it is possible that the upcoming Maymester trip will be canceled. Fewer applicants for the program means a lower budget for the trip, Pinner said, and potential applicants may be deterred by news of the coronavirus outbreak. She said airline suspensions to the area might also present issues for student travel.

Hunt said he is confident in the experts monitoring coronavirus and those making decisions about UNC travel to China. 

Still, Haeussler is hopeful that she’ll be able to see Shanghai this summer.  

“I’ve been studying Chinese for nine years,” she said. “I’m going to be pissed if I can’t go.”

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