SRJC study abroad cancelled due to coronavirus fears

SRJC+students+pose+alongside+their+fellow+Spring+2020+AIFS+students+in+front+of+the+Roman+Forum%2C+blissfully+unaware+that+it+would+be+their+last+trip+together+before+contagious+disease+would+cause+the+program%27s+termination+on+March+3.

Photo courtesy of Riley Palmer

SRJC students pose alongside their fellow Spring 2020 AIFS students in front of the Roman Forum, blissfully unaware that it would be their last trip together before contagious disease would cause the program's termination on March 3.

Zane Zinkl, Editor-in-Chief

Despite assurances last week that the program would continue, Santa Rosa Junior College study abroad students and faculty in Florence, Italy, woke up this morning to the unexpected news that their program was cancelled due to the elevated threat of coronavirus.

“The CDC has made the recommendation to postpone or cancel student study abroad programs,” said Kerry Loewen, study abroad director and dean of arts and humanities.

This was a whirlwind change from the prognosis by SRJC officials and the American Institute for Foreign Study a week ago, when the cancellation was considered “very unlikely.”

AIFS and SRJC had told students that in the “very unlikely” event of the level 3 advisory, they would most likely be moved to another European location such as London.

That is no longer happening.

The frustration of SRJC students and faculty frustration was palpable.

Professor Jeannette Ben Farhat was unable to contain her tearful reaction to the news.

“I’m upset at the abruptness. We could’ve continued this week, could’ve had closure and then cut off before spring break,” she said.

Students shared her reaction.

“It just sucks. At the end of the day, it’s just a massive bummer,” said SRJC student Djuna Barricklow, 20. “I came into this thinking I would be here for three months, and now I’m finding out we’re leaving next week. There’s still so much I haven’t done.”

AIFS sent out an email at approximately 4 a.m. Italy time, informing students they would receive a refund for the remainder of the trip and that they should prepare to leave tomorrow, with the window of travel set from March 4-11.

Some students already left today, with little more than a day’s notice.

“It’s a sh*t show,” said SRJC student Vienna Thongrasmy, 21.

Students are strongly advised against staying in Italy, and those who do may have to sign a waiver.

“Honestly, I’m a little frustrated. I understand this is an epidemic, but it’s mostly affecting infants and elderly folk,” said SRJC student Anthony Giampoli, 23. “We are fine here. I feel the schools are just making rash decisions.”

Even the AIFS representatives in Florence were disappointed by the outcome.

“I feel sad because a lot of people come here not even imagining it to end like this,” said Trung Tran, a representative of AIFS. “A lot of people worked really hard to get here. I was a study abroad student, too, so I understand.”

According to Tran, even though coronavirus is a crisis, poor communication between different agencies and governments makes it worse.

AIFS Representative Katarina Zikovic blamed the coronavirus media circus.

“It makes me really sad because I understand all the cautionary measures but sometimes we tend to be too cautious. The coronavirus is proof of what the media can do,” she said. “It sucks. Anything can happen apparently.”

Some students in the program used humor to cope. A Diablo Valley College student Nadjlaa Benaouda, 21, joked about doing it all over again.

She said, “I’m going to study abroad again, just to spite God.”

Riley Palmer, former Editor-in-Chief and current study abroad student in Florence contributed to this article.