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Student: “I have no more savings left.” Tens of thousands of dollars likely lost in study abroad trip cancellations

A laptop displays old data of coronavirus infections in the United States.

Sloane Nicoletti-Watson was supposed to be in Greece on Thursday evening. But instead of touring Ancient Athenian ruins she was in The Cove trying to reconcile how she lost nearly $3,500 for a trip she’ll never get to go on.

“I have no more savings left. I had to get help from my parents for this and I quite literally have nothing left in my bank account,” Nicoletti-Watson, a junior classics major, said. “So, if I do not get refunded for this, I will have no funds for anything.”

Nicoletti-Watson is one of dozens of students who have been severely hurt financially after Seton Hall abruptly canceled several study abroad spring break trips to eight countries late Wednesday evening, causing students to collectively lose out on tens of thousands of dollars.

The countries in which trips were canceled included Japan, Italy, Greece, and Ecuador, among others. One study abroad trip to India, which left on Wednesday, was able to proceed.

The University cited concerns about the spread of the virus, known as Covid-19, abroad and said that the decision was to preserve the “health and safety of our students, faculty, employees and their families.”

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The cancellations of the trips have also sparked new concerns about where students, who had previously planned to be in a foreign country, will stay over spring break. The Provost’s Office sought to assuage those concerns in an email today to affected students, though, which said that students who were inconvenienced by the halting of international trips can contact the Office of International Programs for spring break housing on campus and promised to provide meals to students.

“The University continues to explore potential refunds for the various trips and that work is a priority,” the email read. “We anticipate more information on that forthcoming early next week.”

Earlier Friday, students who were supposed to go on the Italy trip were informed that they would be receiving a $1,400 refund and the value of their plane ticket through United Airlines.

In the days since the cancellations, many students have expressed frustration with the Office of International Programs and the Provost’s Office and questioned why the University took so long to call off the trips, many of which were preparing to leave on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

“The fact that the virus has been so widespread, and it spreads extremely quickly, they [Seton Hall] should have been thinking about this before, not the day that all the trips are leaving,” Nicoletti-Watson said, echoing a complaint of many students whose trips were canceled. “If they do preach that this was a health and safety risk, well then that should've come into play a while ago. Not an hour or two before people were supposed to leave.”

Another student, sophomore Diplomacy major Sarah Czochanski whose trip to Italy was canceled, said that she too felt that if the University’s main priority was health, then “this concern would have been raised weeks ago along with a contingency plan.”

“The fact that Seton Hall administration waited the day before the trip is disgraceful,” Czochanski said, also questioning why Seton Hall didn’t offer travel insurance as part of the packages for students. “I lost $4,000 that I barely had in the first place.”

Czochanski also expressed frustration with the way the University has handled the event since cancellations began.

“Every office we go to, we get sent to a new office who tells us they’re not responsible and there’s nothing they can do,” she said. “Fourteen other people from my Italy group and I all went to Presidents Hall asking to speak to President Nyre and they said he couldn’t because he was busy, so we asked when we could meet with him and they said we could not.”

Czochanski and her group did meet with Associate Provost Associate Joan Guetti, who informed them that other colleges and universities were pulling out of their study abroad programs as well. In the last week, Villanova, Syracuse and hosts of other schools suspended their study abroad programs and began repatriating students.

Nicoletti-Watson said she was also told by other members of her Greece study abroad cohort who spoke with Guetti Wednesday afternoon that technically the university could not stop the students from going on the trip, but if the students’ faculty adviser went with them, the adviser could be penalized.

“There was mention that if our adviser went with us, he would be penalized,” she said, “So our big concern that we had to debate was do we go without our faculty advisor? Do some of us go and some of us stay?”

The Office of International Programs also told Nicoletti-Watson that if she did opt to go on the trip and ended up quarantined, the university would not help her.

“They said that if we get quarantined, they will not help us in reference to classes,” she said. “If we come back and we miss class, they're not going to help.”

Ultimately, all of the students in Nicoletti-Watson’s group declined to go, with many citing the fear of a possible quarantine rather than the virus itself as the reasoning.

“Honestly, I think the risk would have been lower if we went to Greece,” she said, “Yes, I do understand that planes are big incubators and everything, but in comparison to how many cases that are here that are being treated compared to the one case in Greece.”

According to the World Health Organization, Greece has recorded one case of the coronavirus so far, and Italy has identified 400 cases – some 120 of which began in the country. The United States has so far identified 59 cases of the virus.

As for where Nicoletti-Watson will be staying for spring break, she’ll be staying on campus.

“I'm staying in my room in Xavier, unfortunately,” she said. “I was trying to go home, but, again I’m $3,300 in debt now essentially and I don't want to spend more money to go home. I'm stuck here.”

As of press time, Seton Hall had not responded to request to comment.


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