Northwestern international students struggle with return-to-campus travel plans


Graphic by Isabel Gitten

Northwestern welcomes students from across the globe. This winter, international students are facing complications in their plans to come to campus.

Anna Bock, Reporter

Many international students are struggling to establish travel plans following Northwestern’s October 28 announcement to allow all undergraduate students on campus this winter.

NU’s international community is made up of over 8,000 members from 129 countries around the world as of the 2019-20 academic year. The University’s decision to allow all students is just one hurdle. Many international students now face country-specific travel bans, trouble acquiring visas and rising COVID-19 case counts in the United States.

With China listed on the current travel ban, returning Chinese international students with visas must squeeze through a loophole in the ban to get to the U.S, according to Audney Guo, the president of the Chinese International Student Association. Students have to stay in a different country currently accepted by the U.S. for 14 days prior to their entrance into the country.

“Chinese kids are asking each other every day, ‘Are you going back? Are you going back?’ but no one has an actual answer, because it’s just difficult,” Guo said.

Medill freshman Lucy Dai, who lives in Beijing, said she is considering following a complicated itinerary. After attending secondary school in Delaware, she has one year left on her visa, giving her the opportunity to make a decision to return that many visa-less international students lack.

“They don’t even have the opportunity to decide whether they can come to campus or not,” Dai said. “There’s just one possibility for them — you can’t come.”

Medill freshman Gabriella Nyambura has a visa, but she said she still faces challenges with flights to Evanston from her home in Kajiado, Kenya. The financial support she has received for travel expenses only applies to U.S. airline flights, requiring her to book a layover in Europe. But current U.S. policies discourage a Europe layover. The U.S. denies entrance to travelers coming from over two dozen European countries within the past 14 days.

Still, Nyambura said six of the seven international students she knows from Kenya currently plan to return for Winter Quarter.

Communication sophomore AV Vo, said he fears he will not be able to return home in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for the summer, making him reluctant to leave for Evanston. With heightened travel restrictions, the ability to find flights home from the U.S. after the quarter is not guaranteed, he said.

Instead, Vo plans to stay home with his family, adjusting to his asynchronous courses alongside fellow international students with similar circumstances.

“We’re just trying really hard to form our own sense of community,” Vo said. “Even though it looks very different from what we experienced on campus, it’s still better than not having a community at all.”

With tentative plans to remain at home in Shanghai next quarter in light of rising cases in the U.S., Guo echoed the thoughts of many students planning to continue learning remotely.

“I can’t even remember what it’s actually like going to school on campus anymore,” Guo said. “Now, I’m just waking up every day and doing work on my own.”

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Twitter: @anna__bock

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