Iowa State students studying abroad in Italy are scheduling flights to return to the U.S. by Friday as the university has prohibited all travel to Italy.
The university's decision resulted from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) level three warning advising travelers to avoid all nonessential travel to Italy.
Alexis Myszka, senior in apparel, merchandising and design, is currently in Florence, Italy, for the semester at the Accademia Italiana, which is an international fine arts university.
“We were pretty devastated,” Myszka said. “We were not expecting that. We actually thought that things were getting better because everyone here has been going about their lives pretty normally. Other than occasional people wearing masks, it hasn’t changed much, so we were very surprised at how quickly things escalated when it became level three.”
Myszka received an email Saturday stating all students must make plans to travel back to the U.S. Andrew Simon, junior in advertising, is studying abroad in Urbino, Italy, and received an email early Sunday morning from Susanne Johnson, director of risk management.
Johnson’s email thanked those who made travel arrangements to return to the U.S. after Iowa State decided to discontinue Italy study abroad programming. The university is no longer supporting sponsored travel within Italy, including business and independent travel by students, employees and affiliates.
The email states if someone refused to comply and return to the U.S. by the end of the week, they may face things like: no travel support from Iowa State, removal from university international health and safety insurance, no guarantee of academic credit and possible complications with student visa status.
“The decision to take us away from a town where there are zero cases, even after over dozens of tests, and take us through Rome to the airport, after they already said to avoid Rome, is idiotic,” Simon said in an email.
Simon said in an email that the university has “ruined” his semester because they “reacted compulsively instead of simply looking and realizing the healthcare and quarantine methods in Italy” are superior to the practices in place in the U.S.
“We’ve been hearing about it for several weeks now but we hadn’t really thought much of it because as far as we knew it hadn’t hit Italy,” Myszka said. “We were just hearing little rumors about it being in China but then a week ago, I think, is when we started reading articles about how hard the northern towns were being hit, how things were getting close. And that’s when we started paying more attention to it because it was getting closer to Florence.”
Myszka said she is sad to be leaving sooner than originally planned and has booked her return flight. She isn’t worried about contracting the virus but is more nervous about traveling back. One of her concerns is that they’re taking everyone’s temperatures before allowing them to board airplanes.
“I know some airlines have started canceling any flights into Italy or they just canceled their airlines altogether, coming in and out of Milan, so we’re just worried about getting stuck here,” Myszka said. “So I’m more concerned about how it’s affecting travel plans and what the state of the airport is going to be like.”
In regards to travel delays of not being allowed to fly out of Italy, Myszka said the university hasn’t reached out too much but they are expecting an official email Monday.
“We’ve kind of been on our own trying to book [flights] back,” Myszka said. “I think we’re all just trying to do it as soon as possible but I’m just anxious about what the procedure is going to be like.”
As students are leaving Italy before the semester is over, they are unable to complete their courses while there. For Myszka she said they will have a meeting with the heads of Accademia Italiana Monday, but so far she has been told they will be able to finish classes online.
Frank Peters, director of the Study Abroad Center, sent Simon an email which said Iowa State will “reimburse expenses for rebooking or a new ticket up to $1,200. Special cases will be considered above that, but please exercise your due diligence, and provide documentation."
It is not mandatory for students to be quarantined once back in the U.S., but Myszka said the university recommended they self-quarantine for the first 14 days.