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Administrators, students discuss suspension of Hong Kong study abroad program

| Thursday, December 12, 2019

In a Nov. 20 press release, the University announced its decision to suspend Hong Kong study abroad programming for the 2020 spring semester, citing concerns for student safety as violence surrounding pro-democracy protests in the region has escalated. Fourteen students had planned to study at one of Notre Dame’s three Hong Kong study abroad programs, based at the University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Following the announcement, Notre Dame International (NDI) worked with affected students to offer them alternative study abroad experiences at different sites around the world, said Michael Pippenger, vice president and associate provost for internationalization.

Cristina Interiano | The Observer

“We are always monitoring events around the world. Our first and primary responsibility is to make sure our students are safe,” he said.

Hong Zhu, senior director of global education, said this semester, one Notre Dame student was studying abroad in Hong Kong. As the protests escalated and began to disrupt classes, the institution the student was studying at, HKUST, announced it was allowing international students to leave early and complete their classes online. Zhu said NDI gave the student the option to either leave early or finish the semester in Hong Kong. The student ultimately opted to leave early, she said.

Pippenger said the student’s return led NDI to have “a natural discussion” about the study abroad program in the spring, and the issue was considered from multiple angles.

“We watched the events unfold in Hong Kong, and we saw that the protests and the government’s response to the protests was getting closer and closer to the heart of the university communities there,” he said. “We looked to see what was going on in the global education community with our peer institutions to see whether or not they were closing their programs and getting a sense of where and why.”

Of the three Hong Kong universities affiliated with Notre Dame, only HKUST decided not to accept international students for the spring semester, but Notre Dame chose to suspend programming for all three institutions, Zhu said.

“Based on all these facts, together we decided the best decision is to suspend all of them, not just one, and then try to place [the Notre Dame students] in other locations when it is still possible,” she said. “There’s too much uncertainty to continue in 2020 with the situation in Hong Kong and with what we have benchmarked.”

The 14 students who had committed to the Hong Kong program for the spring semester were given four options for alternative study abroad sites. Zhu said six students chose to study in Galway, Ireland, four chose Rome, one chose Jerusalem and no one chose São Paulo. Three students opted to stay on campus for the spring semester. Although the official deadlines for enrollment in the other programs has passed, all students who chose an alternative site were enrolled in their program of choice within a week of the decision.

Pippenger said Notre Dame’s decision to suspend the Hong Kong study abroad program came after Duke, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan and other American institutions suspended their study abroad programs for the semester.

The decision to suspend the program currently applies to only the spring 2020 semester, Pippenger said.

“We would look jointly at what’s going on later in the spring to see if we would suspend the program again in the fall or if we would reopen it,” he said.

Pippenger said NDI has cancelled study abroad programs in the past, such as a program in Egypt during the Arab Spring and a program in Japan following the 2011 earthquake, but neither he nor Zhu recalled a cancellation during either of their times with NDI.

Junior Bradley Batas is one of the students who had planned to study abroad in Hong Kong in the spring. Batas said he and the other students planning to study in Hong Kong were informed of the suspension by email Nov. 16.

“We didn’t really expect it to be officially cancelled, but we kind of had the feeling in the back of our minds that if things do get any worse, with all the things happening in the news, it was definitely a possibility,” he said. “It kind of did make things a pain, looking back at all the preparation we did, the flights that I booked, all the excitement which ended up building up, and then to have that all falling down in one day. At the same time, we got placed in other programs, so things kind of worked out.”

Batas said he will be studying abroad in Galway, Ireland, next semester.

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About Andrew Cameron

Andrew is a senior from Orange County, California. He is an associate news editor at the Observer, and is majoring in Biological Sciences and English. While he has greatly enjoyed his time at Notre Dame, during the winter months he often wonders why he ever left the perennial warmth of Southern California.

Contact Andrew