SPARTA, NJ -Two brothers have had their once in a lifetime opportunity to study abroad come to an abrupt end.  Brendan and Connor Erickson now find themselves back home with more questions than answers. Not the least of which is how will they finish the spring semester of their junior year.

“I had an email when I woke up [on Friday] telling me I had to leave Rome by March 5,” Brendan said.

For Connor, it was an email at midnight telling him he had the option to stay and then at 4 a.m. another message telling him they “had pulled the program” and he had until March 9 to leave.

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The guys and their parents decided it would be best to leave while they could, with rules changing by the day and even hour.

They were not surprised that the programs were cut short.  Brendan’s roommates, in Rome through Stonehill College's program, were among the first to leave, having received an email telling them they had 48 hours to leave.

Additionally, another Sparta alumni, Ashley Schoenfeld had her program in Florence cut short.  She was studying abroad through Syracuse University.  Both Syracuse and New York University were the first to pull their programs Connor said.

“[The virus] was up in the north but making it’s way down,” Brendan said.

“It was only a matter of time before it hit Rome,” Connor said.

They both said there was no evidence of any worry or panic in Rome.  “There was not much hype, no masks, everyone was going about their regular routine,” Brendan said.

“My professor [in Rome] thought it was being blown out of proportion,” Connor said.  The nearest case was a couple of hours away he said. 

Brendan is a Business Finance major at University of New Hampshire.  He was in Rome through John Cabot University's program, taking five classes including two “on-site” classes that had him walking around Rome, visiting the various sites such as the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain.  Those classes were canceled before the school canceled the program, Brendan said.

He is also enrolled in a painting class and is unsure how that will be handled back here.

Connor is a Business Finance major at Michigan State University. He was in Rome through the American University in Rome program.  He had five classes and is only concerned about losing credit in one class, a video production class.

Connor was told he had to Skype into the class for the lesson and lectures.  A 9 a.m. class has him up at 3 a.m. to meet with the professor and his classmates.  He was told, however, he will have to be on campus in Michigan to take any exams. 

Both Ericksons are considering returning to campus; Connor has a room in a fraternity and Brendan has an apartment off campus.  

“What else are we going to do,” Brendan said, since they are in the middle of the semester.

“At least we have a place to go,” Connor said.  Other people in their programs do not have housing on campus for the spring semester.

Currently, the schools are on spring break.  The colleges in the United States have told the Erickson family they will be sorting out the details of how to proceed by the end of the two-week spring break. Brendon was told not to contact his professors, that the Dean will contact him.

The boys were disappointed that their additional travel plans had to be canceled as well.  They had trips scheduled and paid for; money they will not get back. 

“We had plans and airline tickets to go to Barcelona, Lisbon and Valencia over spring break,” Connor said. 

“We also had trips planned to Amsterdam, Munich and the Amalfi Coast,” Brendan said.  They already went to Vienna, Austria and had a ski trip to Interlaken, Switzerland.  Part of the decision to study abroad was to take advantage of the opportunity to travel.

Getting home was unexpectedly normal.  Their trip took them from Rome to Frankfort, Germany and then to Newark.  They did not get screened or have their temperature taken they said.  They were asked a few additional security questions but nothing that slowed their trip.

They did have to sit in the plane in Frankfort for two hours because of a drone in the airspace Brendan said.

None of the airport personnel were wearing any protective gear, no masks or gloves as they dealt with people traveling from a “Level 3” city, the Ericksons said.  

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention the levels are:

  • Level 1 – Watch, Practice Usual Precautions,
  • Level 2 – Alert, Practice Enhanced Precautions,
  • Level 3 – Warning, Avoid Nonessential Travel

Mom Karen Erickson said United Airlines charged $600 to change Connor’s ticket to come home early.  For Brendan, it was more than $2000 to change the ticket on Air Canada.  They are hoping trip insurance will cover some losses.

In addition to monetary loss, the Erickson’s are in limbo about their spring semester classes and credit.  They both have internships lined up for the summer.  One possibility is to take online courses.  If they had to take online courses to make up the lost credits, it would be a busy summer.  More busy than they were hoping for.

Karen Erickson said they were concerned if they waited that it would not have been easy to get them home. She said she and her husband Scott are glad to have them home. 

They shared some photos from their trip.