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Thursday, Sep 24, 2020

Students abroad in Hong Kong finish semester in the US

Students abroad in Hong Kong finish semester in the US

A few days into her internship with AMENPAPA, a retail company in Hong Kong, Syracuse University senior Lydia Hsu received an email that said her time abroad would be ending early.
“The schools were burning, there was a lot going on in the streets and public transportation was getting disrupted,” Hsu said.

SU canceled its study abroad program in Hong Kong on Nov. 13 due to protests and political unrest in the area. City University of Hong Kong, which partners with SU, was the site of protests and a fire at an academic building in November. The city-wide protests began June 9 over a proposed law allowing people who’ve committed crimes to be sent to countries Hong Kong doesn’t have extradition treaties with.

The Hong Kong program is suspended for the spring semester, said Keith Kobland, SU media relations manager, in an email to The Daily Orange. SU Abroad did not believe students were in “imminent danger” when the program was canceled in November, but that security and safety were “deteriorating,” Kobland said.

“Until that point, protests were localized and our students attended class and safely experienced the city by observing common sense precautions,” Kobland said. “After the semester started, protests escalated, with significant disruption to mobility and public transportation.”

SU students abroad in Hong Kong were given one week to find their plane tickets, Hsu said. Housing for the program would be canceled Nov. 19, Hsu said. She left Nov. 18.

“We really had to work with the time difference of calling back and forth to Syracuse and the airline companies to figure out exactly what was going on,” Hsu said. “We only had three business days and a weekend to figure it out.”

SU Abroad covered all airport transportation and return flight costs for students to travel from Hong Kong to the United States, Kobland said. Students were offered the opportunity to work directly with International SOS, SU’s security provider, to book a flight out of the country at no cost, he said.

Hsu said she received reimbursement from the university for her flights three weeks ago.

Students were assured they’d have the chance to finish the semester, Hsu said. The Hong Kong program had three “modules,” she said. Students were given the option to leave after the second module of classes. Students that stayed for the third module could choose between an independent study and research track or an internship track.

Once the program was canceled, students were given the option to do independent study and research from home or not receive credit for the final module, said Hsu.

The SU center in Hong Kong kept students informed about any possible safety threats or disruptions, Kobland said. Hsu said students were told they were not allowed to join the protests, which she said were not a “disturbance” to daily life until mid-November, she said.

Shane Shikichi, a senior international relations major at SU, first witnessed the protests while coming back from a weekend trip in the middle of the semester. He described it as a small, peaceful protest, but said other students saw much larger protests. He saw protesters and riot police patrolling during Halloween.

“That’s when the majority of students saw the riot police in action,” Shikichi said, “not necessarily throwing tear gas, but much more patrolling.”

Many students were against the decision to end the program early, Shikichi said. Though he was unhappy with the decision, he said he understood why it occurred. Students began understanding SU’s decision to suspend the program when students saw the protests during the program’s last days, he said.

Kobland said the political situation in Hong Kong “appears to have stabilized,” and if security stays stable, the program will reopen in fall 2020.

SU Abroad will host a panel addressing political unrest while studying abroad Feb. 6 at 2 p.m. in Hall of Languages 500, Kobland said. The panel will feature Dr. Erika Wilkens, assistant provost and director of SU Abroad, Seth Tucker, director of global security, two alumni of the Hong Kong program and two alumni from the Santiago, Chile program from fall 2019.
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