Students at NYU Paris are unsure of their next steps as France becomes one of the epicenters of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe.
France has 19 reported deaths and 1,126 confirmed coronavirus cases at the time of publication, placing it among the hardest-hit countries in Europe alongside Germany and Italy.
Much of the students’ unease stems from an email sent by NYU on Tuesday, giving study abroad students the option to either leave their respective sites and take classes virtually or to remain abroad. The decision comes in the wake of the sudden closures of NYU Shanghai and NYU Florence, and in response to new guidelines from the CDC, which urges American universities to consider sending students home from study abroad campuses
For students who remain at their study abroad locations, classes will continue in person. For those who return home, most classes will be held on the digital conferencing platform Zoom. Students are expected to make the decision to stay or leave by Thursday, March 12.
At an NYU Paris Town Hall on Tuesday, March 3, university officials addressed issues such as how the online Zoom function would work for students choosing to leave and whether or not students would be reimbursed for housing.
In addition to figuring out classes, any student who chooses to leave will be responsible for their own travel costs and will not have their housing costs refunded because their departure would be considered voluntary, as was stated during the Town Hall.
“I wasn’t planning on leaving,” Gallatin junior Emily Goniea, who is studying at NYU Paris, said. “But if I had any question about if I was going to, learning that I would not be reimbursed for housing would have solidified it. Like even if I had been planning to, that would have changed it.”
NYU Paris Director Alfred Galichon told students at the town hall that the possibility of a campus closure later in the semester could not be ruled out and that NYU was carefully monitoring local regulations and updates to determine its next moves.
“Things might evolve in France as they might evolve anywhere in the world,” Galichon said during the town hall. “I think the main message is that basically, NYU is continuing to operate in Paris, and I think that’s very good news […] if NYU is keeping operating its center in Paris, it’s because NYU is considering it safe.”
The town hall did little to assuage concerns over what would happen if NYU Paris closes later in the semester, and many students still consider this a likely outcome as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise rapidly in France.
“I appreciate that they have options for students who are concerned,” Sophie de Morelos, a College of Marin junior studying at NYU Paris told WSN. “But I know there’s still the possibility that the school will close. It would be really disappointing if campus closed and we wouldn’t get the study abroad experience that we expected.”
Though some appreciate the agency that NYU is offering, others see the email as a means of avoiding responsibility rather than offering a legitimate solution. “I feel like the email was definitely more so that NYU could avoid liability,” Steinhardt sophomore Gillian Weatherford said. “I think now either way, they can point back to this decision that we have to make and be like, ‘Well, your child decided to take on this liability.’”
France is currently at stage 2 — a pre-epidemic level — as laid out by French Prime Minister Éduoard Philippe during an emergency meeting with other French officials in late February. As a response, the government has closed schools in the most affected areas and banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people.
Stage 3 is defined as a full-force epidemic, with cases of the virus spreading throughout the entire country. The country is expected to enter this stage soon, likely signaling more school closings, more extreme restrictions on large gatherings and suspensions of public transportation.
For some worried about the situation in France, NYU’s email came as a welcome surprise, allowing them to take their safety into their own hands.
For CAS sophomore Tianai Song, a student at NYU Paris, the email further complicates her situation.
“I cannot leave because I’m from China,” Song said. “It’s more serious, the virus situation is more serious in China […] I definitely cannot go back to China. But I have to admit that the situation in France is getting worse.”
Even if she was able to go home, the thought of taking online classes holds no appeal for Song.
“Since we are students and we also pay for tuition, we all want to be in the classroom to learn, because I feel like that’s the best way to learn, because you really get to interact with your professor,” Song said. “Otherwise we would all be taking Zoom at home right now.”
Students pursuing certain majors were left under the impression that if they left campus now, they would be unable to graduate on schedule.
“For music, we just can’t do that,” Weatherford explained. “We can’t learn ear training or keyboarding over Zoom. I can’t make up those classes. I have to take these classes in order to graduate on time.”
Many students who have chosen to stay are now left attempting to strike a balance between staying safe and making the most of their study abroad experience. In the email, NYU encouraged all students to avoid international or domestic travel to areas affected by the coronavirus.
Some students have accordingly canceled travel plans and assured family members that they will not be leaving the country, but for those who already purchased plane or train tickets and have made extensive travel plans, the idea of canceling all further travel is hard to stomach.
“It’s really frustrating, because this is my one chance to study abroad,” Weatherford said. “I have already bought a lot of tickets […] I’ve spent so much money on these tickets. As of now, I’m not changing my travel plans.”
As France steps up its response to the coronavirus, students are also concerned that if they leave the country they may not be able to get back in, or that soon they will no longer be able to return to the U.S. without facing a quarantine.
“I’m planning on returning to the U.S. for summer school, and I’m really worrying now about whether I can return to the U.S.,” Song said. “I am facing the problem that I might not be able to go anywhere.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 9, 2020, print edition. Email Grace Symes at [email protected]