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International Students at SRU are being given the choice to stay on campus or return to their home countries because of concerns about COVID-19. Most international students had to make their decisions whether to stay in the U.S. or return home before President Behre announced that all classes would move online for the remainder of the semester, in order to arrange flights and to account for border closures and limited availability in flights.
Noora Alie, assistant director for International Student Services, sent an email to all international students outlining their options.
“[The Student and Exchange Visitor Program] has issued a statement informing university officials that international students can return home and still maintain their active immigration status should classes be in an online format,” Alie said in an email to all international students. “For those of you looking to return home, I hope this brings you a bit of relief knowing that you can continue to maintain your immigration status while taking classes in your home country.”
Alexandre Okuma, a junior international student from Brazil, said his plan is to go home and finish the rest of the semester online from his home country and return to SRU in the fall.
“As much as I want to return home, many airline companies are not operating flights to Brazil, so I am unsure as of right now,” Okuma said. “If for some reason I stay at SRU, the Global Engagement Office has figured out the international students’ housing, so we will all be able to stay on campus. I just hope we can all get through this with the least amount of damage as possible.”
The Office for Global Engagement understands that it is not an option for every international student staying in Slippery Rock to return home in order to stay healthy. For international students who live on campus, they can continue to do so until the end of the semester, and boxed meals will be provided to them.
International students deciding to return home must inform Alie or another designated school official in the Office for Global Engagement.
“International students must have a valid travel signature on their I-20 before exiting the country,” Alie said.
International students who are currently traveling and want to return to SRU will be allowed to do so. International students who want to continue their travels are also permitted to do so, but they must contact the Office for Global Engagement to confirm that they will continue traveling and report their current location, according to an email from Alie sent to all international students. Students living off campus are also required to report their current location.
Alie said this information is also required for any international student who has traveled outside of the U.S. or Pennsylvania.
Rina Saito, a senior international student from Japan, said she is staying at SRU until she knows for sure if there will be a spring commencement ceremony.
“It’s so sad that we will have no face-to-face lectures in the future,” Saito said. “I already miss everyone, and staying on campus makes me feel lonely. I couldn’t even say goodbye to most international students because they left before I returned from my spring break travels.”
Saito said that most ceremonies and concerts are canceled in Japan as well.
Keonhui Kim, an international student from South Korea, is returning home next week and said she is proud of her country because the government has been checking all people for the virus and have been wearing masks.
“I feel really bad because this is my last semester and I didn’t expect the virus to make me return back home earlier,” Kim said. “I am very disappointed because I cannot see my friends, and I will miss SRU.”
Andres Ortiz, a freshman international student from Bolivia, said he will be returning home as soon as possible. He said the cases in Bolivia are spreading quickly as well.
“I didn’t think the whole world would just stop working in less than a week,” Ortiz said. “I don’t feel I am in a safe place, and of course I am very homesick. I wanted to go back home this week but couldn’t find any flights, and I was not able to leave the country because I would have immigration problems with my visa.”
Mohsen Kanani, a sophomore international student, left SRU to return home to Israel on Wednesday and will be in a 14-day quarantine once he gets there. He said going home was best for him even though his country is also experiencing a widespread of the virus.
“I encourage everyone to take it seriously and take care of themselves and their loved ones,” Kanani said. “Hopefully we can all get through this very soon if we stay at home to stay safe and healthy.”
Alie said that the Global Engagement Office would strongly recommend exchange students to consider returning home but would not be mandating that students return home.
“We acknowledge that every case is unique and that having students return home may cause some difficulty,” Alie said in an email to all international students.
The Global Engagement Office has hired outside transportation for those who need a ride to Pittsburgh International Airport. A maximum of 6 students are allowed per trip on each shuttle run to the airport. These shuttles run from March 17-21 for those international students in need of transportation to the airport.