NU Declassified: To Stay or Not to Stay

Rayna Song, Reporter

RAYNA SONG: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Rayna Song. This is NU Declassified, a look into how Wildcats thrive and survive on Northwestern’s campus. Last week, Northwestern announced an extended spring break and a move to online classes for the start of Spring Quarter. In this same announcement, the school asked students to go home if they can, but this left international students with a tough decision. Going home isn’t as easy for them as it is for domestic students. For Weinberg freshman Richard Chen, home is Shanghai, China. China’s current policy is that international arrivals must self-quarantine for 14 days. Despite this complicated process, Richard still plans on going home.

RICHARD CHEN: U.S. hasn’t reached its peak of infected population yet. Looking at the news in China in general, this situation is kind of stabilized. China already has all these measures to contain the virus. Also for a personal reason, I felt like I need to talk to my friends and to stay within the timezone to talk to them more easily and most of my friends are in Asia. If we’re gonna do online instructions for Spring Quarter, might as well just go home because there’s no difference for you to stay here and go home.

RAYNA SONG: There is a 13-hour time difference between Evanston and Shanghai. That means that a class at 3 p.m. in Evanston would be at 4 a.m. in Shanghai.

RICHARD CHEN: I’m an econ and psychology major, so most of my classes are lecture-based. I don’t think there’s any class that’s particularly difficult to be taught online. They’re going to record the class and you’re going to watch it online. There’s no way for them to be requiring international students to wake up at, like, 4 a.m.

RAYNA SONG: Richard booked a flight back to China for March 27 because it was one of the few direct flights left between Chicago and Shanghai. He wanted to take a direct flight because he said transfer flights are not as safe.

RICHARD CHEN: Transfer flight itself is such a big risk factor because the more you fly, the more planes you get on, the increasing likelihood you get from being infected by coronavirus, because you’re gonna be stuck in this constrained space with limited air ventilation for a couple of hours.

RAYNA SONG: There are other concerns besides the long way home and the subsequent quarantine. Because travel between China and the United States is very limited, if Northwestern resumes in-person classes Spring Quarter, there’s a chance Chinese international students who go back home won’t be able to return to campus.

RICHARD CHEN: If I got stuck in China, I can’t do anything. Northwestern will still continue its online instruction for international students even if the quarter normalizes and all the domestic students come back and have actual classes. It will be fine for international students because the school promises us to have online instruction if we can’t travel back.

RAYNA SONG: According to an official email sent by the Office of International Students, “international students who are unable to return to the U.S. to resume in-person classes will be able to continue their classes by remote learning.” With the decline of new cases in China, Richard believes that major cities in China are much safer than cities in the United States.

RICHARD CHEN: As of now I felt like Evanston is safer, but I’m not sure about the future because the U.S. (cases have) exponentially grown. It hasn’t reached its peak yet, but Shanghai has already reached its peak and is going down.

RAYNA SONG: When Richard first saw the news about coronavirus in January, he was concerned about his family back in China. To make the situation worse, the outbreak happened right before the Spring Festival, the most important Chinese holiday. During the Spring Festival, most Chinese people returned home, accelerating the spread of the coronavirus.

RICHARD CHEN: At first, I felt very concerned because it’s gonna affect the people that I know in my family. Later, on as the news and all the events start to develop, I really felt scared because I myself might as well get infected, because this is spreading around the world. Also I’m more worried about my family just in general.

RAYNA SONG: While Richard made the decision to go home, other international students decided to stay on campus. Weinberg freshman Roman Svintitskyy was one of those students. He’s from Lviv, Ukraine.

ROMAN SVINTITSKYY: Ukraine closed its borders and shut down all airports. But also, I’m much safer here in Evanston, because in Ukraine, we don’t have as many supplies as the U.S. does. Our hospitals will not be as ready.

RAYNA SONG: Ukraine is currently under lockdown to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.

ROMAN SVINTITSKYY: Basically, everything is closed but hospitals, pharmacies, gas stations, supermarkets and some churches.

RAYNA SONG: As a Ukrainian citizen, Roman can still go home if he wants to — even though the country closed its borders. But the process is much more complicated.

ROMAN SVINTITSKYY: The only way for me to go back home is to contact the embassy and wait for the embassy to organize a charter flight back home.

RAYNA SONG: Even if Northwestern closed its dorms, and Roman had to move out, he would still try to stay in the United States.

ROMAN SVINTITSKYY: Some of my American friends have already offered a place to stay. But I also don’t want to burden them as much because I don’t know for how long I would have to stay here. I have plenty of international friends who would be in the same situation, maybe we would rent a house somewhere here.

RAYNA SONG: That’s all for this episode of NU Declassified. Thanks for listening!

RAYNA SONG: This episode was reported and produced by me, Rayna Song. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Molly Lubbers, the digital managing editors are Heena Srivastava and Kalen Luciano, and the editor in chief is Marissa Martinez.

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