COVID-19 sends study abroad home, causes campus closures


Aaron Rohrer, Reporter

On March 12, California Lutheran University announced that as a precautionary measure, the university would transition to their social-distancing plan—moving all classes online—effective Monday, March 16, but for students participating in many of Cal Lutheran’s study abroad programs, their time abroad has been cut short.

The update from the Cal Lutheran Office of the President, stated that the university is actively working with all students studying abroad in Europe to bring them home immediately. The study away program to Washington D.C. is also impacted. 

Cal Lutheran junior Colton Nordby, was studying abroad in Italy through the university’s partner-affiliate program, the American Institute for Foreign Study. 

Nordby received frequent emails regarding possible cancellation of his trip and was unsure whether or not he would be sent home. 

“I was really thinking [the virus] wouldn’t cause the massive panic that it did and I thought of the possibility of them shutting the school down but I really wanted to believe that we’d be able to stay, at least personally,” Nordby said in an email interview. 

Nordby recently flew back to the U.S. to continue coursework virtually. 

Amid the increasing spread of COVID-19 worldwide, many universities across the United States have cut students’ study abroad programs short. Programs abroad to Italy, China, and South Korea were impacted first, as these were areas where the virus continued to spread unknowingly in the initial weeks of the outbreak.

Cal Lutheran junior, Mikala Choy, who was studying abroad in London, England said she has encountered racial profiling related to the fear and panic associated with the COVID-19 pandemic while traveling. 

“It isn’t too uncommon for people to wear masks while… on airplanes,” Choy said in an email interview. “However, I personally have faced some discrimination for wearing a mask [on the airplane] I believe it might be due to the fact that I am Chinese.”

Choy said while traveling to Barcelona, Spain as well as Athens and Santorini, Greece, over spring break, people changed seats to avoid sitting next to her, for three flights in a row. “Lots of individuals were wearing masks, but I was the only one who was left with an empty third row,” she added.

The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance for Institutions of Higher Education which said “the COVID-19 situation is dynamic. Given the speed of spread and the number of countries experiencing community transmission, IHEs should evaluate the risks associated with choosing to maintain programs abroad and take the appropriate proactive measures,” the CDC said. 

On March 11, President Donald Trump issued a statement that travel restrictions from Europe to the U.S. for foreign national would begin Friday, March 13. Over the weekend, the U.S. Coronavirus Task Force adapted the  travel restrictions to include the U.K. and Ireland. 

“The first case of the virus in Italy happened to be an older couple that was staying in our hotel,” Nordby said.  “I actually remember seeing the couple too—I looked online at what we knew about the virus which wasn’t much compared to now, and decided to just get dressed and go get some breakfast… so truthfully after that I really didn’t have any worries about the virus.”

The Cal Lutheran Office of Education Abroad was contacted  by The Echo but was unavailable to comment at this time. 

All but 21 of the roughly 1,200 Cal Lutheran courses offered during the 2020 spring semester, including specific science labs and visual or performing arts, have transitioned to virtual instruction Provost Leanne Neilson said during a universitywide Zoom townhall Friday March 13. The virtual courses are hosting class discission and lecture over Zoom video conference tools, according to the Cal Lutheran social distancing plan.  Residence halls, dining services including Ullman Commons, Habit Burger Grill, Jamba Juice and Starbucks will remain open. The Forrest Fitness Center is on limited hours, open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. and closed from 2-4 p.m. for cleaning. The residence halls also remain open as of Monday, March 16, but the dynamic situation is being monitored and may change.

Initial COVID-19 cases were reported out of Wuhan, China, and are thought to have spread by means of travel, according to the CDC. As of March 16, the World Health Organization reported there are 153,517 confirmed cases globally. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person contact or through respiratory droplets according to the CDC. The CDC is researching the potential for COVID-19 to live on surfaces.

The CDC has advised that washing your hands frequently and avoiding close contact with individuals who are sick asmeasures of self protection. 

Updates on COVID-19 and its effects on the university will continue to be posted at