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CET and Middlebury Schools in China suspend study abroad programs

February 7, 2020

Courtesy of Benjy Renton
CHANGE OF PLANS Passengers wearing face masks in Beijing South Railway Station wait for their trains.

As the number of reported cases of coronavirus continues to rise around the globe, CET Academic Programs (CET), the study abroad program that Bowdoin partners with to send students to East Asia, has suspended its programs in mainland China for the remainder of the Spring 2020 term.

The programs that CET closed include its college programs in Beijing, Harbin and Shanghai. CET has also chosen to close its high school semester program in Xizhou for the upcoming term. The Middlebury Schools in China (MiC), which are operated in conjunction with CET—running in Beijing, Hangzhou and Kunming—were also cancelled its programs.

One Bowdoin student, Emily King ’21, had to alter her study abroad plans with MiC Beijing due to the closures.

The cancellation of the China programs has left students with a choice about how they want to spend the upcoming term. CET has offered an alternative China-based program entitled Spring Multi-City, which will begin in April. They have also offered students the option of joining the CET Taiwan or CET Vietnam programs this spring. Some students have chosen to defer their semester away until the summer or fall. Additionally, Middlebury has offered students enrolled in their programs the option to study for the semester at Middlebury or to enroll in their intensive summer language program.

King, who had not yet left the U.S. when MiC Beijing was cancelled, worked with Bowdoin’s Director of Off-Campus Study and International Programs Christine Wintersteen to find a back-up plan, which hopefully will allow her to enroll for the spring semester in a program at the University of New Zealand.

“We ended up working with a university in New Zealand. We are definitely past their application date, but many, many institutions actually ended up reaching out to Listserv saying, ‘due to the virus, we are extending our application period and would be happy to welcome a student,’” Wintersteen said. “Everything’s very late, but [Emily] is taking all the steps, she’s receiving confirmation, she’s now applying for a visa.”

King could not be reached for comment.

CET announced its decision to cancel programs on January 29 as a response to travel advisories issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. State Department warning against travel to China.

“A lot of factors go into this sort of decision,” Executive Director of CET Mark Lenhart ’89 wrote in an email to the Orient. “We try to ascertain the real risk by checking with a variety of sources, including our staff on the ground, our own medical and security partners, the CDC and the Overseas Security Advisory Council. In this case, we also reached out to personal contacts who work for the State Department in China.”

While CET initially chose to postpone the programs’ February 12 start date by two weeks, the risk posed by the quickly-spreading virus was too high to warrant running the program. Shortly after CET released its decision on January 29, the State Department raised its travel warning to its highest level—Level Four: “Do Not Travel”—an advisory level unprecedented for China.

Unlike the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in China, during which certain study abroad programs chose to evacuate American students studying away in China, the closure of this spring’s programs did not require the repatriation of CET’s spring semester students. At the time of CET’s announcement, only a group of 19 students, who had opted to enroll in a January term in China before the start of the semester, was forced to evacuate.

“Crises like this remind us all why we do the work we do. We work to build bridges and increase understanding across borders,” Lenhard said. “We know these bridges will withstand these temporary setbacks. The key is looking ahead and focusing on the future.”

Regardless of current program suspensions, Wintersteen said that sophomores exploring study abroad options for the following academic year should still consider China if they are interested.

“My feeling is if China is the place you want to study abroad, at least at this point, to list it as your top choice and to troubleshoot on the back end,” said Wintersteen. “I wouldn’t want to close up the option.”

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