I-TEAM: Coronavirus threatens more than just health for local students abroad

Monday, March 9, 2020
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- We know it's on your mind because so many of you are calling, e-mailing, and messaging us about it.

We’re working to spread facts, not fear about the coronavirus as we keep you updated on how this threat could affect you.

It's leaving some local students studying abroad with a difficult decision that could affect their future, but it's not for the reason you might think.

Let's broaden this out. Whether it's studying abroad or if your family is heading overseas for spring break. This isn't just about getting sick -- it could be about getting stuck.

That’s the fear on Macie Hofilena’s mind. Hofilena is from Evans on full scholarship to Texas Christian University. This semester, she's studying in Seville, or Ground Zero for the coronavirus in Spain. And not just because it's where the country's first case surfaced.

Doctors believe the 62-year-old man caught it in or near Seville.

"One kid went home, and they don't know what her academic consequences are going to be,” Hofilena said. “Her parents just said, 'I don't care. You're coming home.'"

Hofilena says she has to care about her academic consequences. If she left, she could risk zeroes in all her classes for the rest of the semester -- not from TCU, but from the University of Seville where, technically, she's a student right now.

"So for people who are like me, who are on scholarship, and have to be enrolled full-time, it would have devastating consequences, both to, like, my GPA and just future progress because I couldn't attend school if I lost my scholarship,” Hofilena said.

And it's not just that. Part of the education when studying in Europe is the experience. Hofilena is close to France, Germany, and Italy where the CDC has an elevated warning.

"I don't feel comfortable traveling because those bans could come at any moment,” Hofilena said.

Those bans could close borders, leaving her more afraid of getting stuck than she is of getting sick.

"I'm not necessarily scared I'm going to contract corona, and even if I do. I'm a young person, healthy - and obviously, European healthcare and the US healthcare is great,” Hofilena said.

So for now with her grades and scholarship possibly on the line if she left, she's staying put. But we’re pretty sure her mom in Evans, and any mom watching right now, would appreciate this.

“I'd say I would leave because of my parents' worries,” Hofilena said.

Something Hofilena worries about is public restrooms. She says they don't have toilet paper or soap in them like they do here at home. She carries her own in her purse.

She says it has her thinking about how many people don't carry that with them, meaning not as many people are then washing their hands.

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