Temple international students face travel, housing decisions after university closure

While some international students have traveled home or are planning to, others remain on or around campus.

Students walk around Beury Beach on March 13. After the university's closure, many international students are signing I-20 forms, which allow non-immigrant students reentry to the U.S. if they travel outside of the country. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

It was the last day of in-person classes before the university transitioned online when several international students visited the International Students Scholar Services office to get their I-20 form signed.

The form is a certificate of eligibility for nonimmigrant students and when signed by an advisor, allows re-entry into the United States when they travel out, according to the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

To ensure she can return to Temple University for the Fall 2020 semester, Tannekee Strachan, a freshman public health major, got her form signed on March 13 — two days after the university moved to online instruction — so she could come back after leaving campus and going home to Kingston, Jamaica, she said. 

Many international students are faced with decisions of when and whether to return home after Temple University announced its transition to online classes due to concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak on March 11. 

The university ordered all students living on campus to vacate by March 21. Students who are unable to return home were able to request a housing extension, according to the announcement

Jamaica’s closed its borders to incoming travelers for two weeks, starting March 21, according to the U.S embassy in Jamaica. Strachan moved out of Morgan Hall on March 18 and plans to travel home the second week of April after she finds storage for her things.

“That was a relief to know that we were not going to have to leave before [March 21],” said Strachan, a freshman public health major. “Then I started to make plans with my parents and how I’m gonna get back.”

Strachan is also on Temple’s women’s track team and was upset their outdoor season was cut short, she said. She plans to practice with her coach in Jamaica and wants to figure out how she can take Temple summer classes while at home in Jamaica.

What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new coronavirus which was first discovered in Wuhan, China in December 2019. It causes respiratory illnesses. The disease has since spread to dozens of countries, and on March 11, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of coronavirus a pandemic.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Symptoms of COVID-19 include a high fever, cough and shortness of breath. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that symptoms can be mild or severe and appear 2-14 days after being exposed to the disease.

Quang Do, a senior finance major, didn’t get his I-20 form signed because he has no plans to return to the U.S. or Temple he’s graduating this semester, he said. He arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam on March 19, where he’ll be put in mandatory two-week quarantine, according to the Vietnamese government’s orders. 

The government has required travelers to the country to undergo COVID-19 medical check-up, according to Visit Vietnam. Travelers who show signs of the virus, like a dry cough or high fever, or who are arriving from countries with outbreaks will be placed in quarantine at health facilities. There are currently 52,790 people in quarantine as of March 23, according to Visit Vietnam. 

“It’s chaos right now and I think the U.S. has been careless with the situation and now we have to make tough decisions,” Do said. “I will never imagine that it would turn out this bad, the only thing I could think of is going back to Vietnam where I’m a citizen there. I have access to free health care.”

Do will miss a lot of his online schoolwork while quarantined without internet access, so he emailed his professors and wants the university to change its grading scale to a pass-fail grading system for the remainder of the semester, he said. This will assess students on their overall effort in their courses, not on their ability to pass a test, he said.

“It’s less pressure on our learning,” Do said. “Going back to Vietnam also means that I would have to miss my graduation ceremony but overall, I have to care about my health.”

Amid students traveling back home, other international students remain on or around campus.

Xinjian Li, a senior graphic design major from Chengdu, China, is staying in his apartment on Willington Street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue because he hopes to get a job in the U.S. after graduating in May, he said. He’s applied for Optional Practical Training, a 12-month U.S. employment authorization for international students through the government.

“I didn’t expect school to close because I didn’t expect the coronavirus going that bad,” Li said. “I’m more concerned like my graduation portfolio show is all my three-year design work to show off to other people, but right now, it’s kinda moved online. I’m kinda sad, at first, we have to face these problems.”

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