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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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International students decide: return home or remain in U.S. as virus spreads

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PHOTO: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

Mung Yun, an international student from China, is returning home due to her fear of a “loss of control in America” over the outbreak of the coronavirus in the U.S.

“I think most Americans don’t have [an understanding of] the seriousness of this disease,” Yun said. “It is more serious than the flu. China had 3,000 people die.” 

China reported 81,174 confirmed cases and over 3,242 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak, according to the World Health Organization. On March 19, no new local infections have been reported in China for the first time since the coronavirus spread began. The U.S. has over 10,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 150 deaths as of March 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The number of confirmed cases is expected to rise and could potentially overload the U.S. healthcare system’s resources. 

Although Yun said returning to China will give her a greater sense of safety, her academic career at St. Joe’s remains uncertain due to China’s internet censorship. 

“All the courses I take are online now, and when I come back to China the website and the authority [might not] allow me to access online courses,” Yun said. “So maybe I can’t finish my studies here for this semester.” 

Yun is one of 243 international students from 40 different countries at  St. Joe’s in the 2019-2020 school year, according to Meryl Halpern, director of Office of International Students & Scholars (ISS). 

“There is a whole other layer of rules that the students have to follow in terms of their immigration status and maintaining to stay legal as an international student,” Halpern said. “One of my focuses has been just staying on top of all of the government organizations.”  

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program is “focused on ensuring that nonimmigrant students are able to continue to make normal progress in a full course of study” and “intends to be flexible with temporary adaptations,” according to a broadcast message from March 9. 

Halpern said online classes are “kind of all new territory” for international students.  

“We are definitely trying to keep up constant communication, obviously because we care about them,” Halpern said, “but also because things keep changing so the advice that we give needs to reflect that.” 

Currently, all St. Joe’s students are eligible to remain in their housing on campus as well as access Campion Dining Hall and the P.O.D. Market. Halpern said these resources may be used more heavily by the international student population. 

Weisua Feng, an international student also from China, intended to spend her 2019-2020 academic school year at St. Joe’s abroad. Feng and her roommates decided to remain on campus, because they feel safer here than if they return to China.  

“My classmates and my roommates all want to fly back to China, but we still live here [because] we don’t think it is really safe if we stay on a flight or go back to China,” Feng said. “We got news that St. Joe’s will let us stay here and learn online, so I can just stay at my apartment and not go out.” 

Feng said she has felt supported by ISS from the beginning.

“At first when it happened in China maybe two months ago, I got a message from ISS and they asked me, ‘How are you? How do you feel?’ and ‘[Are you] missing something?’” Feng said. 

Despite St. Joe’s efforts to get information to international students as efficiently as possible, some students have been confused about the resources available to them. Carlos Luja ’22, an international student from Mexico, said returning to campus after spring break seemed like “a lot of trouble.”

“I did want to go back but they were telling me I can’t stay in the dorms,” Luja said. “Then someone told me that I could stay in the dorms if I fill out this weird form. I am already back home, so it just made sense to stay back home.” 

Luja also said the two hour time difference between Mexico will pose problems for his early morning classes.   

“I have some 8 a.m.s and 9 a.m.s, so that is going to be 6 a.m.s and 7 a.m.s so that will be tough,” Luja said. “To understand what I am going through you don’t need to be international. People in California have it even worse because their hours are even more different.”  

Halpern said she is working with Nicole Stokes, Ph.D., associate provost for diversity, equity and inclusion, and other senior leadership to address additional issues that international students face, like differing time zones.  

“We need to figure out if the online courses are going to be offered only at the exact time that their class is offered,” Haplern said, “or are they going to be recorded so people can view it at their own time?”  

Luja said another challenge he faced was that he left all of his “important school stuff” in his room at St. Joe’s. 

“Like books, notebooks, notes, everything,” Luja said. “Everything that I need to work with.  I can’t even go back and get it, and my roommate also couldn’t go back and get it, so it is just sitting there but I feel like that is really going to affect my work.”  

Gail Benner, director of PR and media, said students should contact their individual professors if they are lacking coursework materials.  

“Though limited, our residential staff may be able to assist residential students in accessing coursework and textbooks, technology needs, medication, passports, or other important personal items,” Benner wrote in an email to The Hawk. 

Luja said he was warned by others that he should not go back to Mexico over break due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

“They said, ‘Oh you have to be careful because Mexico is a third world country, so it could turn out to be bad,’” Luja said. “Here in Mexico, it is not that bad. It is bad but not anything like the U.S.” 

Feng said staying at St. Joe’s was a difficult decision because she doesn’t feel completely safe in the U.S.

 “I don’t see people protecting themselves,” Feng said. “The coronavirus will impact others. So if you protect yourself it means you also protect others, so I think this environment is not very safe.”

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