Coronavirus Disrupts YSU Study Abroad Trips

By Brianna Gleghorn

Study abroad trips give Youngstown State University students the ability to connect with people of different cultures and countries, but with the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19, trips can be altered or canceled.

An email was sent to the YSU community Feb. 19 with an update on COVID-19, a recommendation to not travel to China, and to issue a “temporary restriction for all university-sponsored travel to China.”

The U.S. Department of State has issued a level 4 travel advisory warning because of the risks associated with traveling to China.

According to the Department of State, commercial travel to and from China has been restricted or suspended, and it encouraged travelers to “be prepared for the possibility of travel restrictions with little or no advance notice.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned Americans of a significant disturbance with recent travel advisories being increased in Italy, Iran and South Korea.

A photo from the YSU Department of Psychology’s trip to China in May 2019. This year’s trip has been canceled. Photo courtesy of Shawn Williams

As a result of the coronavirus epidemic, the YSU psychology department has canceled the “Special Topics Devel Psych Children and Family in China and the U.S.” research study abroad trip but has continued the course.

Jeffrey Coldren, chair of the Department of Psychology, said after a discussion with the college dean, the co-leader of the trip and the associate provost for international and global initiatives, the trip to China was canceled due to safety concerns. 

“I mean the concern overall, we’re trying to get a really good educational experience to the extent that we can, given the situation,” he said.

According to Coldren, the psychology course has been adjusted and has provided students with the ability to look at factors affecting China in this epidemic.

“I think this gives us a really unique opportunity to kind of examine in a real-life situation how people are coping with this very uncertain situation,” he said. 

Coldren said because of various specializations in the psychology department, different elements happening in China can be examined. 

“In looking at resilience, for example, we’re looking at an enormously stressful condition,” he said. “We’re looking at normal coping patterns that people may not have access to because they can’t travel as easily.”

Coldren said that even though cultural immersion is an important part of studying abroad, this unique experience can be beneficial in other ways.

“The skills that we bring as behavioral scientists could be very useful in this case,” he said. “By examining how people are coping and reacting or what kinds of resilience factors they may have.”

Ying Joy Tang, assistant professor of psychology, said a major part of the course was to travel to China and collect data. With help from partners in China, the research objective is still in place. 

“The course was already set up in a way that during the semester we came up with a research design,” Tang said. “We talked with our collaborator in China and asked them to potentially provide assistance.”

According to Tang, although China was a major part of the research, the focus has shifted to look more at research discussion and the research component. 

“I think the course, the way it was set up, was multifaceted in the sense that the travel wasone of many components that would be valuable to the students,” she said.

Nathan Myers, associate provost for international and global initiatives, said the decision was made early enough to give students options. 

“From a student standpoint, there are credit hours attached to this,” he said. “So we approached it for the best interest of the students.”

According to Myers, after seeing the media coverage and travel advisories from the Department of State and the CDC, they decided it was best to cancel the trip.

“We went into the [psychology] department and considered what was the situation now. Is it likely to change? And knowing what we know now, what’s in the best interest of the students?” he said. “Our goal all along was how can students complete the course with academic rigor, with a set of alternate assignments, without traveling and be safe.”

Myers said the conversation to cancel the trip started in mid-to-late January, and was officially canceled at the beginning of February.

“On the one hand, one might look at it and say ‘It’s only the first week of February. Let’s just let this ride for two months and see,’” he said. “That’s not a great place to be from a university standpoint. We know that there is a severe epidemic.” 

According to Myers, other study abroad trips may be affected as COVID-19 continues to spread.

“Recently the CDC has raised the travel warning to travel advisory level 3 in Korea, and that happened fast,” he said. “They’re going to want to see some period of virus-free activity before they’re going to lower that, so Korea has already been shelved.”

Myers said the YSU faculty have worked to change courses and projects with this disruption to previously scheduled trips and proposals.

“It’s just been very disruptive, and the YSU faculty especially have been very kind and flexible in arranging alternate projects and even the potential of working with students,” he said. “That’s why we are all here: to enable student success.”

Emily Stran, a junior psychology major, said this trip would have been her first experience outside the U.S. 

“To have the experience of being completely immersed within a culture was really intriguing to me,” Stran said. “That’s the main reason I took the class.”

Stran said although the class will not be traveling to China, she decided to continue the course.

“We’re still running the course basically the same way that we had planned minus the trip,” she said. “We’re still working on research projects as groups within the class and we’re trying to be optimistic about it and consider it a unique opportunity.”

According to Stran, a majority of students continued the course even without the trip.

“Even though it is disappointing that we can’t go, it is really cool to see more than a majority of the class have decided to stay with the course,” she said. “I think it’s really cool that everyone’s still willing to work for it.”

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