On March 1, 2020 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a public statement encouraging U.S. institutions of higher education to “consider asking current program participants [in student foreign exchange programs] to return to their home country.” CIS Abroad participants are urged to contact their home university for any new instructions as a result of this recent CDC guidance. Should a student’s home university mandate that they return home, CIS Abroad ask to be informed as soon as possible by the institution, and asks students to coordinate with our onsite staff.
CIS Abroad is carefully considering the CDC’s statement and we want to reiterate, as the Forum on Education Abroad and Pulse, have done:
- The statement, as written, is guidance to consider. It is not a directive that is being handed down. Instead, the CDC is asking our field of education abroad to consider postponing or canceling student foreign exchange programs.
- Students are not typically members of the population who may succumb to a virus like COVID-19. Those populations have often included the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
- Unlike typical travelers, students are supported on the ground at their various study sites by CIS Abroad professional staff, faculty, and others who work to assure that students are provided information, assistance, guidance, and help when necessary.
- While our partners in Italy have confirmed that students can complete their semester remotely, CIS Abroad cannot guarantee that all of our overseas partner institutions can accommodate distance or remote learning for students whose institutions require their departure.
The following events would compel CIS Abroad to temporarily suspend or cancel our programs:
- The U.S. State Department advisory level for the country is elevated to Level 4, “Do not travel”.
- The CDC elevates the alert level to a Level 3, “Avoid all non-essential travel”.
- The U.S. or other country governments recommend immediate departure or evacuation of all U.S. citizens.
These factors applied to Italy, where CIS Abroad Spring 2020 programs have been suspended, and to South Korea, where we canceled our Spring 2020 programs before they began. While these factors are currently our guiding criteria for suspension or cancellation, CIS Abroad may at any time expand this list of criteria if it is deemed to be in the best interest, safety and wellbeing of our participants.
Regardless of the CIS Abroad suspension or cancellation criteria, all CIS Abroad participants and their families should be aware of the following, given the dynamic and changing situation with COVID-19;
- The U.S government and/or local host governments can enact travel restrictions, institute quarantines, and activate additional border screening processes at any time;
- Flight carriers can announce suspension of travel routes into and out of a country at any time;
- A home university in the United States may choose to call students home at any time.
Any student or family who feels uncomfortable continuing in a CIS Abroad program for the Spring 2020 session should immediately communicate their concerns to CIS Abroad’s on-site director(s). CIS Abroad is focused on flexibility for all summer and fall 2020 programs, giving students as much time as possible to make decisions about upcoming travel.
CIS Abroad will continue to closely monitor the spread of COVID-19 in the host countries of our programs. This monitoring includes, but is not limited to:
- Continually evaluating CDC and other U.S. governmental guidance;
- Frequent review of local government responses in each country where CIS Abroad is working, as well as that of our local partner institutions;
- Gathering responses and protocols of U.S.-based universities and colleges.
CIS Abroad will continue to keep you apprised of any updates in this ever-evolving situation. We are all deeply committed to global education and will rise to the challenge of this virus together.