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Courtesy of Rosanne Wickman
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COVID-19 complicates study abroad for UMKC students


Studying abroad is a dream many students have during their college career, but it turned into a nightmare this month for many UMKC students.

Maxing out credit cards, almost getting trapped inside a foreign country and having no idea what’s happening at home are all difficulties study abroad students faced.

Ishmael Shumate, a senior business major, studied abroad in Valencia, Spain. Shumate was there when COVID-19 began to take hold in America.

“I was aware of the Coronavirus concern, but I didn’t understand the severity of it until Trump placed a travel ban on Europe,” Shumate said. 

When he found out about the travel ban, Shumate went into an instant panic trying to figure out how to get home. He was able to get to Kansas City by 1 p.m. the next day.

 “I took a bus from Valencia to Barcelona, a flight from Barcelona to Oslo, another flight from Oslo to New York City, and the last flight to Kansas City,” Shumate said. 

During his trip, Shumate had to figure out all his travel plans independently and maxed out his credit card in order to get back home.

Ciara Pate also faced urgency to leave her study abroad program. Pate, a senior in communication studies, studied in Valencia, Spain, where she said she didn’t feel any sense of anxiety until news that people in America were panicking about COVID-19.

“No one was really panicking until the U.S. started to panic and raid grocery stores; that was when the Spanish began to raid grocery stores,” said Pate.

Once all of Pate’s classes were canceled in Spain, everything else started to close as well. Everyone was quarantined, and only the essential businesses were open. All of Pate’s classes were moved online, and she started making plans to come back to the U.S.

“When UMKC informed everyone of canceling all spring and summer study abroad programs, I made the decision to return home,” Pate said. “I would be able to still work on all of my classes remotely, and I had the fear of possibly getting stuck outside of the U.S. due to increasing travel restrictions.”

Pate had trouble finding airports that would fly back to the U.S. once the travel restrictions were placed. She flew to Amsterdam from Valencia, and originally planned to fly into Philadelphia and then to Kansas City. The problem was Amsterdam no longer had flights to the U.S.

“Only a few airports were available for people to come into the United States from Europe, and Philadelphia was not one of them,” Pate said. “I had to change my flight plans to fly to London, then Dallas, and lastly back to Kansas City.”

Courtney Collins, a junior majoring in business administration, said UMKC kept her well informed on the development of COVID-19 in the United States while she was in Málaga, Spain.

“The UMKC Study Abroad Office kept us informed of new information regarding international travel, but ultimately it was up to myself to figure out how to get home,” Collins said.

Collins, Shumate and Pate all say UMKC kept them updated and checked in with them once they got home to check on their safety.

“I felt like there was an adequate amount of care and concern for my health and safety,” said Collins. “There is no perfect way to handle a situation like this, and I appreciate anyone who helps in any way.”

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