MU students studying abroad feel effects of volcanic eruption

Thursday, April 22, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — When her spring break ended on April 18, MU student Caitie Carter expected to return from Belgium to her host university in Alicante, Spain.

Instead her flight was canceled. A volcano in Iceland that caused flight cancellations across Europe managed to affect her plans as well.

Carter had to seek alternative forms of transportation to get back to the Universidad de Alicante. She took a train to Paris and stayed with her cousin while waiting to return to school.

"There have also been transportation strikes all over France, which has caused many of my trains to be canceled," Carter said in an e-mail. "My plan right now is to keep making my way south on trains or buses to get back to Spain."

Carter is not the only one caught in this situation. American students traveling throughout Europe have had their flights canceled because of the ash from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

Many airports have been closed for the past six days. According to Eurocontrol, the Europe-wide air traffic agency based in Brussels, more than 95,000 flights had been canceled since Thursday. Most airports reopened this week, and flights are beginning to resume.

"Many of my other friends have found ferries and other means of transportation to get back," Carter said.

Getting back is not always the most difficult part. Some MU students have other concerns, such as getting refunds from the airline companies, as well as explaining their plight to their schools.

"Getting home takes a few days by any means of transportation other than planes," Carter said. "It has also cost all of us way more money that we had planned on spending in our spring break budget."

She is unsure about getting a refund because flight delays and cancellations were caused by extraneous factors that airlines do not control. She also must deal with her unanticipated absence.

"Most teachers at my university have been understanding, although many are requiring proof of flight cancellations, so that people unaffected aren't just taking an extended vacation," Carter said.

MU is monitoring the progress of students like Carter who are making their way back to school or trying to get home. According to Barbara Lindeman, the director of MU's study abroad program, 201 students are studying abroad this spring, and 142 are based in Europe.

"We have contacted our colleagues at universities in Europe where MU students are studying to find out which, if any, of our students are currently traveling and experiencing difficulties in returning to their host universities," Lindeman said.

MU will also provide support around the clock if students need assistance, she said. Students studying abroad are provided with information about how to contact the MU International Center study abroad staff 24/7 in case of emergency.

In addition, the study abroad office sent an e-mail to MU students studying in Europe regarding current travel disruptions due to volcanic ash and transportation strikes.

"We have encouraged students to notify us if they need assistance," Lindeman said.

Nevertheless, MU makes it clear that students are responsible for independent travel, Lindeman added.

But she does not believe the situation will affect the students academically.

"Thousands of people in Europe are in the same situation, and professors and universities have been understanding," she said.

The 60 journalism students from the Missouri School of Journalism currently on internship or exchange programs in Europe have not experienced disrupted travel back to the U.S., said John Wilkerson, coordinator of the study abroad program. 

These students are based in Ireland, Spain, France, Denmark, Belgium and the United Kingdom. Most of the programs conclude in May.

MU sophomore Emily Luft, who is on exchange at Lancaster University in England, flew home for her spring break. She was not able to return to England after her flight was canceled on April 18, and has been placed on the next available flight, which won't leave until April 27.

"My flight was re-booked for free and everyone seems to be pretty understanding at my university," she said.

"I'm kind of just trying to enjoy the experience I mean, how often does one get stranded because of an Icelandic volcano?"

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