Northwestern student studying abroad sent home, spring break programs canceled due to COVID-19 outbreak


Courtesy of Sydney Matrisciano

Weinberg sophomore Sydney Matrisciano in Barcelona, Spain this February. She recently returned to the U.S. after her study abroad program in Florence, Italy closed in response to the country’s COVID-19 outbreak.

Isabelle Sarraf, Assistant Campus Editor

COVID-19 News

While students on Northwestern’s campus prepare for finals, Weinberg sophomore Sydney Matrisciano is spending her week in quarantine.

Matrisciano was studying abroad for Winter and Spring Quarters in Florence, Italy through a Syracuse University affiliated program, but it was canceled, forcing her to evacuate the country.

When she arrived home in Mississippi, Matrisciano said she had to start quarantining herself for potential exposure to COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus.

Northwestern issued a statement Wednesday that all University-related travel to Italy and Iran are prohibited, adding to existing travel restrictions to China and South Korea. Additionally, it issued another statement that it “prefers” NU employees avoid any nonessential travel abroad. Any faculty or staff planning to travel must first seek approval from their vice president, dean or immediate supervisor, according to the release.

The University restricts travel to countries deemed high risk by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which have issued Level Three travel advisories to those four countries. The U.S. Department of State has also issued travel advisory warnings to the same four countries, where the combined total number of confirmed cases has reached around 92,000 according to Johns Hopkins University.

Matrisciano said despite the abrupt return, University officials have been helpful in getting her home safely. She also said her experience in Italy made her more aware of the precarious nature of the COVID-19 outbreak. She witnessed the tourist-heavy streets of Florence empty and saw grocery stores run out of food, water and supplies.

“Northwestern had a very strong and coordinated response to my issue. I think within 24 hours, my flight had been rebooked,” Matrisciano said.

The University has also made accommodations for her coursework, Matrisciano said. She has the option to take online courses while living on Syracuse’s campus for the rest of their spring semester, continue online classes while living at home or withdraw from the program and return to Northwestern in April at the start of Spring Quarter.

The University also released a statement Wednesday canceling NU-sponsored undergraduate and graduate international spring break trips. The University has created a website dedicated to updating the community on COVID-19’s impact.

Five of these trips were meant to be integral to Medill’s Global 301 “Journalism in Practice” course, for which about 80 students planned to travel to Chile, Cuba, Barcelona, London, Israel and Palestine over spring break. The class spans the last five weeks of Winter Quarter and the first four weeks of Spring Quarter, with the spring break trip an essential component of a culturally immersive opportunity.

Medill sophomore Maya Mojica said she was supposed to travel to Barcelona, Spain over spring break for her Global 301 course — which had already been rerouted in January from its original destination of Shanghai. She said many parents expressed growing concerns this week about the global spread of COVID-19, especially after Spain reported around 200 cases as of Wednesday.

Because the trip was canceled a little over two weeks before spring break, Mojica said she is unsure where she is staying over the break because her sorority house will be closed.

“Flights home are expensive,” Mojica said. “I’m probably not going to get to go home, which is a little sad.”

Medill sophomore Isabel Gitten said she was upset to hear that her Global 301 spring break trip to Cuba was canceled. She said she was anticipating practicing journalism abroad, and even applied to Northwestern because the course was a “staple” of the Medill experience.

Gitten said she was unsure if the University’s decision to cancel all NU-sponsored international spring break travel was necessary because there are no reported cases of COVID-19 in the country as of Wednesday night. It was frustrating, she said, that the University was making it out to seem like traveling throughout the U.S. was safer than traveling abroad when there were more reported COVID-19 cases in her home state of Massachusetts than her original spring break destination.

“I really hope that Medill allows us to (go on the trip) next year because I feel like never letting the Class of 2022 go would be a huge takeaway from the entire Medill experience,” Gitten said. “It’s something that sets Medill apart, and to deprive an entire class of that — although it’s not completely their fault — is unfair and is taking away from our (experience). This class relies so heavily on the trip.”

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Twitter: @isabellesarraf

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