Belmont students forced to leave Italy due to coronavirus crisis
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Belmont students forced to leave Italy due to coronavirus crisis

Four Belmont exchange students studying in Florence, Italy are being sent home immediately due to concerns over the continuation of the coronavirus outbreak. 

The students are taking part in a semester-long exchange with a contracted provider – Study Abroad Italy.

“When I found out about the cancelation of my program, I was immediately devastated. I have been trying to remain positive and I am incredibly thankful that I got the opportunity to study abroad in Florence, even though it was short-lived,” said Rileigh Skelton, a junior. 

Skelton said she other Belmont students in the program were sent an email on Monday from Study Abroad Italy President Michael Crusuano saying, “SAI has decided to suspend all programs in Italy, effective immediately. We ask all students to depart Italy.” At least four Belmont students are on that program.

The program was officially set to end in May, no students were notified they have until March 12 to evacuate their current living situations in Florence, said Belmont sophomore Carrie Neville. 

This would cut their scheduled time abroad in half.

Skelton said she and the others “are experiencing a lot of anxiety and frustration.”

“But, ultimately our health and safety is the primary concern,” she said. “No matter how sad I am, I am thankful to be both healthy and safe.”

While the semester-long Italy program was cut short by the provider not Belmont, the university last week suspended all international spring break trips due to fear of the coronavirus. Belmont also canceled Maymester trips to China, Japan and South Korea.

“This semester has not looked at all how I expected, but in so many ways it has been better,” said Neville. “I am still very heartbroken, confused, and angry, yes, but I look forward to looking back at this semester. At least I know I’ll definitely have a story to tell.”

Skelton and the other students were told, they will be able to finish their classes for credit, but will have to do so online rather than in the country.

“Students on this trip will begin to take their classes remotely as an academic plan is being made by the program,” according to the email sent out to the students from SAI.

Students may receive a refund from the program cost since all housing costs were fully paid in advance to travel. It is unknown if the students will be reimbursed for their flights home.

“We are committed to refunding any portion of program cost that are recoverable to SAI, and we ask for patience since that will take some time to sort out,” according to the SAI email sent to both students. 

Though not happy her trip is being cut short, Neville said she understands the concern and appreciates the support Belmont has given her. 

“Belmont has been without a single doubt, the most kind and supportive university throughout this period of anxiety and worry,” said Neville. 

“Through my program suspended its activities for the semester, Belmont remained steadfast in their support for me, and not all students going through this can say that. I am so thankful.”

Article written by Madison Bowen.

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