International students feel impacts of coronavirus travel restrictions

Kevin Yang and Rebecca Tauber

As the coronavirus epidemic continues to spread, international students at the College are experiencing the consequences of increasing travel restrictions. As of Tuesday, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a level three travel health notice for China, Iran, Italy and South Korea, cautioning that all travelers avoid nonessential travel to those countries. The CDC has also suspended entry of foreign nationals from China and Iran to the United States, has labeled Japan with a level two notice, recommending avoiding nonessential travel, and has designated Hong Kong as level one, recommending that travelers exercise caution.

Many international students have changed or cancelled their plans to travel home during spring break. “I have already had to cancel my trip home to Dubai, but now I am unsure of whether traveling even within the U.S., like to California for example, is worth the risk either,” Simran Sohal ’20 said. “It’s hard to distinguish between paranoid and prepared.”

Rebecca Park ‘22, whose parents were in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the epidemic, expressed that the effects of the coronavirus initially seemed distant to her. “After calling my parents, though, I realized the severity of the crisis, especially its impacts on mental health for people abroad/living in China, and I was more willing to share with others about my connection with the coronavirus situation and ask for prayers,” she said. Park’s parents have been evacuated from Wuhan to the U.S., and have finished the quarantine process. 

In an email sent to the student body, Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom and Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass asked for students, faculty and staff with any plans to travel abroad to register their travel with the College. In an additional  email to the Record, Sandstrom and Klass strongly discouraged any students, faculty or staff from traveling to affected areas.

“Williams will be following federal, state and local guidelines in regard to quarantine… With the exception of travelers returning to the U.S. from China, there are no current recommendations for quarantine,” they said in the email.

While some students have adjusted their travel plans primarily to avoid affected areas, U.S. travel restrictions on foreign nationals have led others to wonder whether any travel out of the country in the coming months might lead to complications when attempting to return. “I’m also concerned about my summer plans because I do want to go home over the summer. However, I’m concerned about immigration and customs and visa stuff, about whether by then things will loosen up,” said Chenyu Zhang ‘22, who is from Kunming, China.

KJ Kogawa ’23, whose family lives in Shanghai and who also has Japanese citizenship, agreed. “It’s affected a lot of my plans,” he said. “I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m abroad and just being told, ‘you can’t fly back’…there’s a chance that I might just stay here, which is okay… Because I’m definitely not going home… And I don’t know if I’m even going to go back during the summer.”

Several students also expressed frustration with the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus’ rapid spread, including to the United States. After canceling his plans to travel to Europe and visit home in Shenzhen, China, Haoyu Sheng ‘20 said he is unsure whether he should leave campus at all. “I’m just trying to go domestically like Florida or California but my parents are super worried. They’re like ‘It’s about to spread everywhere, you might be safer staying on campus,’” he said. 

Many international students have family and friends living in affected areas whose daily lives are being affected by the spread  of the coronavirus. “Even if my mom is picking up a package and she walks out, her temperature has to be measured. And then when she walks right back in, she has to be measured again,” Sheng said. 

Teo Pollini ’20, whose family lives in Switzerland and Italy and who has decided to stay in the U.S. for spring break, also emphasized the greater impact on those living overseas. “Although changes in my spring break plans are inconvenient, there are people that are being affected in much more serious ways, so I’d like to acknowledge that,” he said.

Pollini said he hopes that the crisis will have abated by commencement. “As of right now, my family has their flights booked and are planning on coming over for graduation,” he said. “They’re pretty confident that there won’t be any issues by June.”

With much up in the air regarding coronavirus epidemic, the College has not yet decided on any potential changes to commencement. “It’s much too early to make decisions, but we’re tracking the situation and will share news and information with everyone as we get closer to June, if needed,” Klass and Sandstrom said.