The Collegian
Friday, August 14, 2020

Study abroad credit not guaranteed in rare events

University of Richmond students studying abroad are not given any guarantees about their class credits if a natural disaster or political conflict forces them out or causes them to want to leave.

Although the university does not have an exchange program in Egypt, students in the past have gone to the American University in Cairo. There are no students in Egypt this semester.

Depending on the point in the semester when a student would have had to leave Egypt, the Office of International Education would have worked with the student and his adviser and department to either enroll late in courses back at Richmond, study at another location or university where the semester had not yet begun or had just began (like University of Haifa in Israel) or try to find way to earn at least partial credit for the semester, Michele Cox, director of study abroad and Joe Hoff, associate dean of international education, said in an e-mail.

However, earning partial credit for the semester cannot be guaranteed, Cox said.

"I think it is important to note that in the 20 years I have worked here this has not happened to Richmond students abroad so it would be a very rare occurrence indeed," Cox said.

The university's precedent for the type of situation in Egypt was Sept. 11, 2001, Cox said.

During that incident, Cox said that one or two students who had not left to go abroad decided not to go. Those students were allowed to come back to the University of Richmond because it was still early in the semester.

Usually after the first week of classes, this does not happen, but because it was such a huge tragedy, professors had been extremely flexible, especially because only 1 to 2 percent of students were affected, she said.

"That was a very extraordinary situation," Cox said.

After the aftermath of Sept. 11, two students studying abroad at the Umbra Institute in Perugia chose to come home in November.

The students were able to continue some of their abroad classes using technology, but were unable to make up their Italian class and only received partial credit for that semester, Cox said.

Cox also said there had been situations when a parent had been ill or died, so a student had finished his abroad semester and exams long-distance, but in some situations, this was not possible.

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"It all depends on the timing of when it happens," she said.

Joe Hoff, associate dean of international education, said the office worked with the Richmond and Westhampton College deans and Office of Student Development to work it out when there were problems or issues.

In the case of the political situation in Egypt, Cox said that according to the news, some universities in Israel had offered students in Egypt spots there instead.

Cox said another possibility would be to move students to another partner institution, which would depend on the student's interest and the time in the semester in which it happened.

"They [the students] could be moved to the nearest place, like for example, maybe they'll just move to a different city or to a neighboring country," Cox said.

In the case of political problems, the university has political evacuation insurance for its students studying abroad. The insurance company has a plan to get students to the nearest safe place, Cox said.

Cox said that the study abroad office would like to pre-empt the situation, but that it was not always possible.

Students studying abroad are repeatedly reminded to send the university their mobile phone numbers and physical addresses and register with the U.S. State Department and a local embassy or consulate, Cox said.

This way, the university officials can reach students if they need to.

Cox receives information from list servs about what is happening in the countries and relays this information to students if necessary.

"So we tend to be proactive so that students are kind of aware of what's going on and hopefully will follow our advice...," Cox said.

The Office of International Education mostly follows what the U.S. State Department tells it to do, Hoff said.

"So if there's something that's happened in a country, you know, we will go ahead and make sure the students are okay on our side first whether the students have contacted us or not," Hoff said.

Although junior Andrew Odenheimer was studying in Seoul last semester when North Korea fired shells at a naval base about 60 miles from him, he was not forced to go home.

Hoff said that if a student didn't feel comfortable, he had to make the decision to leave, but that the university officials would recall students if they felt that their safety was in imminent danger.

Odenheimer said that Cox had emailed the students in Seoul to see whether everything was okay and that she had given them her home and cell phone numbers and told them to contact her for any reason at any time, which was comforting.

The university where they were studying had zero contact with the students about the situation, which was interesting compared to how Richmond reacted, Odenheimer said.

Odenheimer said that the students in Korea had discussed what would happen to their semester credits if they had had to leave.

He said that he would have wanted his parents' opinion in that situation, but that it would have probably encouraged him to stay if he knew he would have lost a semester's worth of credits.

"It definitely is something to be concerned about," Odenheimer said.

Risk is an inherent part of living and you have to make a decision you are comfortable with, Cox said.

"I think study abroad is definitely worth it no matter what, but there are certain places we would not allow students to go at this time," Hoff said.

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