With semester’s end, international students face new challenge

During a typical year, international students face a difficult decision when deciding whether to return to their home countries over Winter Break. For some of these students, COVID-19 is complicating it even more. 

Utsav Manandhar, a junior computer engineering major from Kathmandu, Nepal, said he plans to remain on campus over break.

“I’ll be staying on campus over Winter Break. I live in Cougar [Village], and they usually give residents the option to stay over breaks, so I’ll be doing that,” Manandhar said. “I’m also working as a desk manager at the [Cougar Village Commons], so I’ll have something to do while I’m here.”

Manandhar said Winter Break does not give him enough time to visit family in Nepal. With international travel being so expensive, the pandemic was not the deciding factor for his holiday plans.

“Even last year, I just stayed here over Winter Break. It’s so expensive to travel to Nepal, and it wouldn’t be worth it to just go over for only one month,” Manandhar said.

Dat Nguyen, a junior computer science major from Hanoi, Vietnam, shares the same rationale as Manandhar. Nguyen lives off campus, and regardless of the pandemic, he said he wouldn’t usually visit family over Winter Break.

“If the pandemic wasn’t happening, I would go back over the summer, because I would have three months to visit. But I do plan on driving to visit my sister in Louisiana [over Winter Break], though,” Nguyen said. “I couldn’t go back [to Vietnam] over the last summer with the pandemic. They closed the borders in Vietnam. If I travel, it would be dangerous for me and my family anyway, so I didn’t go back.”

Some international students may still go back, like freshman biological science major Rahil Khedri from Tehran, Iran. Khedri said she is still uncertain if it would be safe to go back — or if she is even allowed to go back.

“I’m living in Cougar [Village] … In some freshman dorms they wouldn’t let me, but here they let you stay over the break, so I have that option,” Khedri said. “Winter Break is one of the longer breaks, so I was planning on going back, but I’m not sure because Iran isn’t really safe virus-wise. I’m probably going to stay here, or visit my other family members in Spain. But Spain is crazy too.”

Khedri said one of her biggest concerns is Iran or the U.S. changing their travel stipulations while she is away from campus.

“I was planning on going back to Iran, but I’m not really sure how the rules work. I’m afraid of them closing the borders again [while I’m in Iran],” Khedri said. “I don’t want to go home and get stuck over there. I might just have to wait.”

Looking ahead, Nguyen said he hopes the virus will be more under control and handled better by next summer, when President-Elect Joe Biden will be in office. 

“If Biden can [deal with] the virus better, I will possibly go back to my country,” Nguyen said. “The struggle with the virus is hard. The whole world is in a really hard situation. It’s been two years that I haven’t seen my family or been back to my home country.”

Khedri said she had similar issues with the current president’s policies. However, Khedri said President Donald Trump’s handling of the virus wasn’t the only thing preventing her from going back to Iran — it was also his travel bans from 2017. The bans affect a number of Middle Eastern countries, including Khedri’s home country, Iran.

“I don’t know about how [Biden] is going to handle the virus. But with Trump, there was the travel ban, so you would have trouble in an airport if you’re Persian,” Khedri said. “Usually, international students all have the same rules, but students from certain countries have different rules right now. Maybe those will change.” 

For more information and resources for international students, visit the Office of International Affairs’ website.

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