Study abroad program in Beijing cancelled due to coronavirus outbreak

Photo courtesy of Kodai Kubota)

Four Lewis & Clark students were set to travel to Beijing during the spring semester, before CET Academic Programs cancelled their 2020 study abroad programs in China due to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus outbreak. Having learned of the cancellation, two of the affected students will be switching over to CET’s language-intensive program in Taiwan, and two will remain in the U.S at LC.

The new coronavirus, which was first transmitted to humans at a meat market in Wuhan, China, is spreading rapidly across the globe. According to the World Health Organization, over 24,000 people have been infected and nearly 500 have died. 

CET was monitoring the outbreak closely and sent the program’s faculty advisor, Keith Dede, professor of Chinese, updates via email.

“Because it happened right before the program was about to get going, it’s a transition period and it’s really hard to rearrange schedules really quickly,” Dede said.

In a statement on CET’s website, they announced their decision to cancel the program, citing travel advisories from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. State Department. There were LC students on two of CET’s programs, one a language-intensive program and one a general culture program, both based in Beijing. 

Maggie Beutler ’21 was on the general-culture program and had already travelled to Beijing when she learned that the program had been cancelled. 

“The entire city had been shut down, transportation was shutting down,” Beutler said. “So a lot of the essential amenities were all being closed, and they were telling us that our program had also shut down while we were there, and the best they could offer us was potentially online classes.”

Lexi Ferentinos ’21, who was on the language-intensive program, had not yet traveled to Beijing due to the later start date of her program. 

“Everyone at LC has been incredibly understanding, helpful and accommodating,” Ferentinos said via email. “I’m really grateful for the professors who are working to catch me up to speed on everything I’ve missed while I wasn’t enrolled. I’m especially thankful for my academic advisor who has helped me with literally anything I’ve needed since I transferred to this school.”

Both Beutler and Ferentinos will be remaining at LC for the spring semester. 

Blythe Knott, director of overseas & off-campus programs, commented on the likelihood of cancellation of other programs. 

“My guess is that it’s unlikely – the quarantine area is still mostly centered on Wuhan city and Hubei province,” Knott said via email. 

On Jan. 31, an email was sent to the student body, faculty and staff entitled, “Updates and resources related to Coronavirus.” The email contained information about the steps LC has taken in preparation for the virus, including the cancellation of the Beijing programs and screening in the health center. 

“I think the biggest misconception with the coronavirus right now is that it’s the plague,” Beutler said. “And I think a lot of people are really just masking their xenophobia and their racism by talking as if the virus is going to get them.”

Beutler explained the differences between East Asian responses and Caucasian responses to the virus. 

“When I came back to campus, a lot of my East Asian friends were saying, ‘I’m glad you’re safe,’” Beutler said. “But when I talked to my Caucasian friends, it was a lot more, ‘What should I be worried about? What should I do? Do you think I am going to get infected?’”

Nick Ni ’23 is from Zhejiang province in China, which currently has the second highest confirmed infected case number in the country. He described his experience as a Chinese student studying in the U.S. and the effect coronavirus has had. 

“The coronavirus is not a thing to joke about,” Ni said via email. “Those are people, not numbers, and people in China are dying for this. And it’s not a reason to become racist to Asians. And there’s a lot of misinformation about the virus which gets people to overreact to the situation.” 

Ni has many friends and family members still under quarantine in his hometown. 

“The whole situation sometimes gives me a hard time to concentrate and hard to get sleep,” Ni said via email. “But compared to what my family and friends is experiencing and the inconvenience they get, my worry will do nothing.”

Additional reporting by Amelia Eichel

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