UC Berkeley students face academic, rent challenges amid UC Education Abroad Program suspensions

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After the UC Education Abroad Program, or UCEAP, was suspended amid COVID-19-related travel restrictions, the program’s students have faced challenges with rent and fulfilling academic requirements.

According to UCEAP spokesperson Myla Edmond, UCEAP programs were suspended on a rolling basis in March when travel to the program’s regions was banned. She added that once the program was suspended, students were told to return to the United States as soon as possible.

“It definitely was not what I expected to happen during my study abroad, but I would not trade the experience for anything,” said campus junior Madison Myers in an email. “I’m a double major so I was super worried about not getting credit for the semester, but it looks like it’s all going to work out fine, thankfully.”

Campus junior Christopher Quagliani studied abroad through UCEAP’s Made in Italy program and experienced similar challenges. He added that he was offered partial credit for classes taken in Italy, with the option to take an additional online course to finish the semester. To make up for the remaining credits, Quagliani decided to take extra courses over the summer.

While many other programs were able to terminate or refund parts of students’ housing contracts, the University of Copenhagen, or UCPH, Housing Foundation is continuing to enforce housing contracts, according to students in the Danish program.

“The obvious concerns are being held to a lease that is not being used,” said campus junior Peter Lopitz, a student in the Danish program, in an email.

Søren Peter Hvidegaard Jensen, director of UCPH Housing Foundation, said in an email that the foundation is an independent nonprofit fund that rents apartments through contracts of up to 10 years and subleases them to exchange and international students.

If students were allowed to cancel their contracts before the end date, this would entail higher rent costs for future students, as the foundation’s costs do not disappear, according to Jensen.

Jensen added that in Danish law, force majeure — a principle in which contract parties are not liable to withhold the contract during “extreme circumstances” beyond the control of both parties — is rarely mentioned in contracts.

“The main problem is that we should have had our contracts canceled as the rest of programs did,” said campus junior Caroline Kurtz. “A global pandemic hasn’t happened since 1918 — I would argue that this is a significant extenuating circumstance beyond the control of both parties.”

Kurtz added that she is trying to get legal representation in Denmark but that the situation is “scary” as she doesn’t know the repercussions of missing rent payments in a foreign country. According to Kurtz, she is one of 600 students who have signed a petition asking for contract cancellations.

Lopitz said UCEAP and the UCPH Housing Foundation have recommended that students file a travel insurance claim, which would cover up to $2,000. According to Lopitz, however, this would not be enough to cover the remaining rent and emergency flights home.

Edmond emphasized that UCEAP is “sympathetic” toward students, but because students organized their own housing through the UCPH Housing Foundation, UCEAP can only “urge” the foundation to “strongly reconsider” charging students the remainder of their rent.

“No one could truly predict the situation we are facing today to happen when it did, and many people are getting the short end of the stick,” Lopitz said in the email. “While being held to the contract is legally sound, it is a shame to not see people working together in a time like this to support everyone.”

Maria Young is the lead student life reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maria_myoung.