Closing the door to her 6 a.m. taxi, Gonzaga University sophomore Nicole Gagnon solemnly watched as the cab drove by her Gonzaga-In- Florence housing, also known as a pensione, for an early departure from her study abroad semester.
“I am extremely devastated by the program ending,” Gagnon said. “I have been looking forward to my semester abroad before I even applied to Gonzaga.”
Many students who are part of the Gonzaga-In-Florence (GIF) program share a similar dejected response regarding the suspension of academic operations that were in response to recent outbreaks of COVID-19, commonly referred to as coronavirus.
GIF students and families were informed via email and the GIF Facebook page on Feb. 26 that students must vacate their pensiones and homestays by March 6 for the remainder of the semester. Students were also informed their student visas would be discontinued then as well.
GIF’s decisions follow the actions of other Italian campuses such as Kent State and New York University, and was followed by campuses like Florida State and Stanford University.
“Before we left for break, everyone was joking about [GIF being shut down] that I didn’t expect the program to get canceled even after I heard that schools like NYU and others were canceled,” GU junior Kate McKain said.
The last time GIF requested students to return home from the Florence study abroad program was the first Gulf War in the early 1990s.
With upward of 200 students who are part of GIF, hailing not only from GU’s campus but also University of San Francisco, Marquette University, Loyola Marymount University and Trinity University among others, many students are left feeling displaced.
“When I first found out, I was so sad that that happened and then I got angry with the way Gonzaga handled it because they closed the school without having a plan,” said Christine Bianco, Loyola Marymount University junior. “I’m a junior and need all my credits to graduate on time and now, I’m left wondering how I will complete those credits, if I even get credits.”
There have been mix responses to the actions that were taken by GIF, some wishing GIF could have handled the situation with more nuance and clarity for students who were individually traveling Europe Europe for spring break.
“It was kind of every man for himself, with spring break groups splitting and people were just doing what they thought was best,” McKain said. “Everyone’s plans changed so quickly, it all escalated so quickly.”
Others said the measures GIF took were necessary, given the circumstances.
“I think that GIF did the best they could,” said Maggie Lupo, Trinity University junior. “It would’ve been nice to have some sort of warning that they were considering canceling, just so that the announcement didn’t seem to come out of nowhere. But I understand that it was a tough situation for them, so I feel like it’s not quite fair to blame them for that.”
With the limited amount of time students were given to get back to the United States between spring break and the school’s final closure date, many were left scrambling to book tickets to fly back to Florence or leave from wherever they were.
“We continue to recommend that you leave Europe from wherever you currently are and not return to Florence,” said GIF Director, Jason Houston, in a Facebook post on the Spring 2020 Official GIF Facebook group.
“When the news broke, I was traveling in Amsterdam, Netherlands,” Moore said. “I talked with my parents and we thought that the first move going forward is to fly home immediately. We did not want to risk the opportunity to be quarantined.”
GIF has offered students, who were not returning to Florence from their spring break travels, that, with written permission the university, friends or a family member would be designated to enter a student’s pensione to collect personal items.
Any item left in the pensione would be shipped and reach students at their designated address by mid-to-late summer.
“I really don’t think the virus is that much of an issue and I don’t think the school needed to shut down so fast,” said Matt Dupak, Marquette University sophomore.
Amid the chaos, students have begun requesting information regarding classes, repayment and other inquiries about the program.
“I want to remind you that your academic work at Gonzaga In Florence will continue," said Houston in another Facebook post. "Our faculty are working hard to move the remainder of your courses into an online delivery method that will permit your work regularly by the end of this academic semester."
As an early response in February to the outbreak, GIF canceled future school-sponsored trips.
“I want to know about being refunded for school trips and the rest of the semester, and they have no response to any of my questions,” Bianco said. “They gave no information in their original email and left the students in the dark.”
With more information about Friday, students are left to wonder about plans for returning home.
“When I get back, I plan on working at my old job and, hopefully, making back the money I just dropped,” Dupak said.
Other students look to continue their GIF journey by applying to another semester abroad with hopes of the outbreak blowing over.
“As of right now, I don’t have any plans, but I actually ended up applying to come back to GIF next fall, if I can,” said Emma Balda, Loyola Marymount University sophomore.
Left with much uncertainty, many students try to remain positive and look fondly on the time they did have at GIF.
“This experience was one I couldn’t trade for the world and it will shape the way I navigate life from now on,” Balda said. “I’ll always have a home in Florence.”