International Students Return Mid-Trimester


Credit: Erin Chai

Technological problems with connecting on Zoom, physical and mental distances between students and teachers, and lack of involvement in campus activities — it can be difficult for international students to just treat this year the same as any other, even with hybrid classes and a schedule meant to accommodate those far away from Easthampton.

With these difficulties, some international students decided to go back to campus in the middle of the trimester, traveling across the globe to get back to campus.

The Covid-19 pandemic started in Dec 2019, in Wuhan, China, and spread around the globe. It reached the United States in Jan 2020, and lockdowns in the United States started by the end of March.

As of Oct 2, 2020, there are two Covid positive cases on campus: one is a student, and the other a staff member “who is not a teacher, coach, or campus resident,” according to an October 2 email. Both are in quarantine right now.

According to the New York Times, up to Oct 1, there are a total of 132,870 cases, and 754 cases on that day, which is significantly lower than the peak, 1963 cases a day on April 29. However, the 14-day change has increased by 50%.

International students have different kinds of opinions for the Zoom classes and the situation on campus, and while some of them continue to stay home, including most of the students from mainland China, others decide to go back. Among them are two juniors, Anita Hua and Praghya Raja.

Anita Hua, a three-year junior from Shanghai, made a sudden but firm decision to go back to campus on Sep 22. She is now quarantining in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Once here, per school rules, she will have to quarantine again until she receives two negative PCR Covid tests.

With the travel restrictions in mainland China, mainland Chinese students are not allowed to directly travel to the United States. They have to be quarantined in another country before entering the U.S.

A project in China called “Yi Qie Cong Jian,” which can be translated into “All from Cambodia,” is organized to help international students who want to travel back to the U.S.

They have a well-organized project of quarantining in Cambodia, in which students just have to pay money and do not need to worry about anything else, because the program sorts out all the procedures, according to a document obtained on WeChat.

Anita Hua is attending this project, and right now is traveling with many other Chinese students from different schools. She feels that the whole journey is challenging but exciting. “Actually, it is quite hard for remote students,” she said. “Especially for the ones who need to be quarantined in a third country.”

“But thinking about how I can see everybody once I arrive at school, I feel exhilarated,” she said in a happy voice.

For her and all the others quarantining in Cambodia, three meals are provided, and they are able to leave their hotel and order delivery. “There are three meals each day, and we can order food. The food is good!” she said.

“We can go outdoors whenever we want to, and we can go to whatever places that we can get to,” she added.

With these factors, she believes that the quarantine experience is nice. “This quarantine is actually not bad,” she said, “there’s a lot of freedom, and I just go out and travel around during daytime.”

The positive cases on campus are not great concerns for her, and the main reasons that she wants to go back to campus is related to her health issues and daily routine.

“It is mainly because of the time difference between the U.S. and China,” she said. She just wanted to be in the same time zone with everyone else. “Even if I’m not on campus,” she said, “but only in the same time zone, online classes would have been fine for me.”

She explains her difficulties with studying in a different time zone, and the stress of not sleeping well. “The main problem is that I have sleep issues, and my hair is falling [out] in bunches,” she said, “My biological clock is totally messed up.”

On the other hand, as a varsity athlete and leader of four clubs, she is excited to see all the students and attend activities on campus. “I can’t wait to see all the others on campus, do sports, and join clubs” she said. Anita plays volleyball and is a leader or co-leader of the Ted, Math, Sustainability, and Science clubs.

Praghya Raja, a three-year junior from India and who is living in Saudi Arabia, decided to go back to campus too. She arrived at Williston on Sept 25. She is currently out of quarantine.

Without the restriction of quarantining in another country, she was able to arrive at the Williston campus directly and quarantine there for seven days.

Her primary feeling is that the whole situation seems unrealistic, due to how much she wanted to go back. “It feels very unreal,” she explained, “because I’ve wanted to come back for a really long time.”

However, her quarantine experience, she said, was not as easy as Anita’s.

“But quarantining is just a little hard here,” she said, “and we’re not allowed to leave our rooms expect to go grab meals.”

As an outdoor person, it is uncomfortable for her to stay in her room the whole time. “This situation is a little bit difficult, because I’m a person who loves to go outside and do things outdoor,” she said, “so it’s very hard for me to just stay in my room.”

She does think that only quarantining for seven days is better than fourteen days. “It just feels very good to be back.”