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U of C recalls study abroad students due to COVID-19

By Nikayla Goddard, March 13 2020 —

For Tyson Schmidt, a third year international relations student currently studying abroad in Japan at Kwansei Gakuin University, his stay in Japan is getting cut short due to the University of Calgary’s recall of study abroad students amid COVID-19 (Coronavirus).

International students studying in Japan, China, Singapore, Italy, Iran and now South Korea are all requested to come home, and UCalgary is working to make it happen, arranging to pay for flights.

UCalgary released a statement to the Gauntlet, saying: “UCalgary has provided students with alternative options should they choose to remain in their host country. Unfortunately, in many cases, these options are not necessarily the best option for students as they may involve extra cost for tuition paid to the host university as a visiting student, etc.”

Originally, Schmidt was upset with this decision, citing zero consultation from the university.

“My plan has been to stay in Japan no matter what,” he said last week. “I don’t believe the coronavirus to be a significant risk to my health.”

Schmidt explained why he wished to remain in Japan, and his efforts to work with the university to make it happen. He had been there for seven months so far and wanted to stay for another four months. 

“I have safe accommodations here,” he explained. “I am — well, I was —  happier than I’ve ever been. I have a part time job here and I have excellent classes to take. Whereas in Canada, considering the economy, I wasn’t able to find a part-time job at all last summer, and because the Canadian winter semester is already long underway, I don’t have any classes to return to either. Which means I’m looking at around seven months of bumming around home, which is something I really want to avoid doing — I want to get on with my life, and I want to complete my degree and start moving forward.”

He continued, “My argument was, that because I intend to stay in Japan no matter what, the university’s claim that this decision is for my well-being doesn’t really hold any weight. Because if it was for my well-being, the fact is that I’m going to stay in Japan no matter what.”

With attempts to waive all of his rights for liability purposes, negotiation for application to his current or a new university, or waiting until he obtains a new visa, Schmidt said that U of C’s response to any attempts at negotiation was a hard no.

But after further conversations with UCalgary took place, where they agreed to pay for his flight home and an eventual return flight to Japan, it was only because of that he “decided to cave and agree to come home,” he said.

“While I still disagree with the U of C’s handling of the measures as I still would have preferred their assistance in allowing me to continue studying at Kangaku and living in Japan, I do appreciate their generosity in agreeing to cover the cost of my flight back to Japan as that was simply not something financially possible on my own. Their actions also help to convey to me their sincerity of keeping my best interests at heart, and so I appreciate that as well.”

He continued, “So while I’m still mad at the U of C’s way of conducting this process, such as their lack of prior consultation or refusal to help me work out an alternative means of staying in Japan, I would also like to commend them for their sincerity and generosity. In particular, despite my often provocative emails, the Study Abroad Director Colleen Packer always treated me gracefully and compassionately even if I still didn’t like the actual content of the emails. So in the end of this, while I’m still upset about the decision, I give my thanks to her and the U of C at least for their sincerity and generosity when it came to my best interests as a student.”

When asked what UCalgary’s conduct would look like should a student from UCalgary or travelling on behalf of UCalgary caught the virus. They responded, “At the University of Calgary, students’ wellbeing is our top priority and if anyone travelling on behalf of the University were to show symptoms and/or contract COVID-19, we would ensure they had appropriate medical support.”

U of C has a COVID-19 web page set up to provide up-to-date information to the campus community. More information is also available from Alberta Health Services.

UCalgary added that they are “concerned for the health, safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff. As the situation is rapidly evolving around the world due to COVID-19, we are here to provide assistance and help to ensure that everyone gets home safely.”

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