Students attending Harding University in Greece (HUG) received notification today that they will be returning to the States due to growing global concerns surrounding COVID-19, the disease caused by a new outbreak of a coronavirus that began late last year. The intended program completion date was April 7, with some students planning to participate in voluntary independent travel afterward.
The HUG campus is planned to be completely shut down by March 15, with students leaving in the coming days as soon as return flights can be booked.
According to Audra Pleasant, executive director of International Programs (IP), the health conditions of Greece and surrounding countries have been closely monitored by IP in the last few weeks. She said the decision came partially due to conditions in Greece beginning to follow trends in other severely impacted countries, such as Italy.
“We hate it for the students,” Pleasant said. “We are so disappointed right alongside them. This is not what we were hoping for at all, but it started to look like it was the right time to make the decision just to make sure that we protect against travel disruptions and that students were able to freely return home when they had wanted to and didn’t end up in any sort of unnecessary quarantine situation or other unknown.”
The decision came almost two weeks after IP decided to end Harding University in Florence early Feb. 26, and one week after Spring Break Missions canceled all international mission trips planned for this week.
HUG students were informed through an email from Pleasant that they will receive a refund of $2,120.40 to their student accounts, which represents 30% of their room and board payment for the semester and 30% of the program fee payment. The students will complete their coursework for the semester remotely.
As of March 11, there are 99 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Greece, 10 of which were reported today. The country closed Greek schools and universities until March 25, beginning March 11.
Pleasant said IP will continue to monitor the evolving global situation, paying particularly close attention to the conditions in Chile, Peru and Argentina, the countries that play host to Harding University in Latin America (HULA), the final international program still fully functioning as of now.
“At the moment while we are multiple times a day considering the situation and continuing to monitor, we don’t feel like the decision needs to be made to bring [HULA] back to the U.S. at this time,” Pleasant said. “We will continue to monitor the situation and if we feel like we’re starting to face the same sorts of difficulties with safety and travel restrictions, then if we have to, we will also make the same decision for HULA, but no decision has been made at this time.”
On March 9, Italy went into nationwide lockdown with blanket travel restrictions, the banning of public gatherings and total school cancelations. The national lockdown, which initially began in the northern regions of Italy, came less than two weeks after HUF students returned to the States.
Updates can be found at harding.edu/coronavirus.