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COVID-19 Updates, News, University News

Some international students quarantine in countries away from home before returning to College Hill

Students quarantine in Hong Kong, Mexico, Sweden, Poland due to travel restrictions

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, September 7, 2020

For Shanghai resident Tiffany Chan ’23, coming back to Brown from China this fall requires an unusual, extra long layover: 14 days of quarantine in Hong Kong. The stop is necessary because of current travel restrictions banning non-U.S. passport holders from entering the U.S. directly from China. 

Chan plans to live in her grandmother’s apartment for those two weeks later this month — where she must quarantine alone. “I (have) to kick my grandma out of her house, and she has to live with the rest of my family (in Hong Kong), because Hong Kong is very serious about quarantining alone,” she said. “The process (is) difficult,” said Chan, who hasn’t lived in Hong Kong since the age of three. 

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, travel restrictions are in place for many international students wishing to return to campus this semester. Most travelers who have been to certain countries in the past 14 days — including Brazil, Iran, China, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Schengen Area, which includes most countries in Europe — are barred from entering the United States because of presidential proclamations instituted during the spring.

This restriction does not apply to U.S. citizens and F-1 or M-1 visa holders traveling from certain countries including Ireland, the United Kingdom or the Schengen Area. 

Almost 30 percent of international students planned to study remotely as of Aug. 10. For international students finding a way back to Providence who do not fit those exemptions, the process has been strenuous and anxiety inducing.

“Some students are taking the option of quarantining in a third country that the U.S. doesn’t have a restriction on,” said Christine Sprovieri, director of international travel risk management for the office of global engagement.

For three students interviewed by The Herald, quarantining in a third country in order to return to College Hill is worthwhile. 

The main motivation behind Chan’s decision to return to campus is the 12-hour time zone difference between Providence and Shanghai. “I am not the type of person who can flip my circadian rhythm,” she said. And beyond returning to Eastern Daylight Time, Chan said she expects that the College Hill atmosphere will support her studies. “I will be able to focus better and be in an academic environment,” she said. 

Fabiana Sarkis ’22, a Herald designer, shared the desire to return to an academic environment. Sarkis is from Brazil and quarantined for 15 days in Mexico before coming to Providence. She said she considers physically returning to Brown crucial for the quality of her education, which remains her priority. “I am at Brown essentially to learn, to be educated and to take classes. I don’t think I would have that experience back home,” she explained. Sarkis reached this conclusion in part based on her experience with remote learning at the end of last semester. Taking classes from home in the spring was “fine, but I didn’t think I learned as much. Even if I am in my dorm, I learn more than if I am in my room at home,” Sarkis said.

Lucas Camillo ’21, also from Brazil, stayed in Sweden and Poland for 19 days before entering the U.S. with his student visa. Camillo’s decision to return to Providence was tied to his upcoming position as a teaching assistant in the biology department. That is “the main reason I am here,” he said.

But the decision to come back was not without its financial drawbacks. “Yes, it was costly,” Sarkis wrote. “I know a lot of people who couldn’t return to the States because of money.”

The financial burden of quarantining in a third country was echoed by Camillo. “Quarantining in Europe and then going to the U.S. cost me and my family probably twice as much as going to the U.S. in terms of plane tickets,” he wrote.

The three international students all expressed concerns about being so far from home during a pandemic. Despite no longer grappling with time zone differences, they now face the possibility of not going home for a year and uncertainty about when they will next see their parents. 

“I am afraid that if we aren’t careful and campus closes, then I will have issues getting home,” Sarkis said. “Rushing home last time was very stressful and anxiety-inducing. It isn’t easy for (international students) to get home.”

Chan is primarily concerned about what would happen to her if she were to get sick while in the U.S. She is hoping for more guidance from the University on that front. “At what point would I be sent to a hospital?” she asked, adding that getting sick in a foreign country would worry her parents. 

“I hope that American kids understand that it’s going to be a hard semester for us,” Chan said. “It’s a lot to navigate right now.”

Sprovieri acknowledged that the process of returning has been challenging for students, but stressed the resources the University provides to help international students navigate their plans for this upcoming semester. Sprovieri encourages students to use International SOS, a travel security firm that provides medical and security advice to anyone traveling on University business. She also encouraged students to reach out to administrators. “There is definitely no lack of support at Brown. We have a really great group of staff and colleagues that are standing ready to support international students,” Sprovieri said.

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