COVID-19 is affecting more than 1,000 BYU international students who cannot go home because of various countries’ travel regulations.
U.S. officials have also implemented regulations to stop the mass spread of COVID-19 that have impacted BYU international students.
BYU has international students from many different nations, each of which is responding to COVID-19 in different ways. For instance, several countries like Spain, Peru and Canada have closed their borders through land, air and sea. However, in countries like Mexico, the borders are still open. In other countries, like Peru, individuals are required to quarantine for 15 days as soon as they set foot in the country.
Along with these restrictions, some international students do not feel supported and have reported facing racism on social media.
Helena He, a genetics and biotech student from Guangzhou, China, has seen how the Asian community has been impacted since the early stages of COVID-19 in Asia. She said before the use of face masks became mandated by the Centers for Disease Control, there were Asian-Americans who didn’t want to wear them in public because they were afraid of discrimination.
“I have experienced online discrimination,” she said. “Being in the community, I heard some people being told racist comments toward them, as well.”
For He, COVID-19 has not only affected her in Provo, it has also affected her family in China.
“My family is still in China. But, my father is still (stuck) at his hometown, Hubei, where the outbreak started,” she said. “The Chinese community is well aware of the situation, and we feel involved. We are making sure students have enough supplies, so in that sense, we are trying to take care of our students.”
Many international students are struggling with their student visa paperwork. Some need to get a new student visa, but because of their countries’ regulations, it is impossible to travel without constraints. Others are fearful about whether they will be admitted into their country of origin.
Israel Selway, an art student from London, and her family have been living in Canada, even though she is an English citizen. Selway, who is the president of the Women of Color Club, said COVID-19 is endangering her status as an international student and her status as a Canadian resident.
For Selway, her Canadian residence and student visa expire soon. Therefore, she needs to leave the country to issue her visa.
“But if I leave (the U.S.) and come back, and they (the U.S.) will see that the visa is from Canada, and my I-20 from England, but I am not a resident of Canada anymore. They will be like, ‘What’s going on?’” Selway said.
Because Canada’s borders are closed to people who are not Canadian citizens, it is hard for Selway to go home and work out her visa situation. If she travels to England to issue her visa, she will not be able to go back to the U.S. or Canada because of migratory regulations due to COVID-19.
Additionally, there are still international students working on campus whose work hours have been reduced, creating financial issues. In many cases, students depend on their on-campus job as their source of income that allows them to live in Provo.
“For international students that are staying here, the main concern is our jobs. They either cut hours down or we lose our jobs. Because without having that support, you can’t pay for groceries, rent and other expenses,” Selway said.
There are some international students who abstained from taking classes this semester so they can complete their visa work in their home country to leave for their mission.
Gabriela Jacinto, a psychology student from Peru, said that COVID-19 changed her plans to serve a mission.
She was called to serve in Taiwan. In her mission call, Jacinto was told to report to the Provo MTC on April 8. She is in Lima, Peru, because she had not planned to take classes Winter Semester or Spring Term. Now her plans remain uncertain because she cannot leave her home to finish her visa paperwork for her mission.
“I was not enrolled this semester because I needed to do visa work for my mission in Peru,” Jacinto said. “And it is affecting me because I cannot leave, and I cannot take any classes at BYU.”
Other international students are stuck in the U.S. Mia Lau, a 2020 neuroscience graduate from Hong Kong, said COVID-19 changed her and her family’s plans.
“We’re not going back because my twin sister is getting married here. I am graduating, so I’m applying for my OPT (Optional Practical Training, a one-year period during which an international student can pursue a job), so I can’t leave,” Lau said.
Lau said she knew more about these adjustments because Hong Kong’s government took steps early on to keep its citizens safe.
“They banned schools. Everybody had to work from home,” Lau said. “They’ll use your phone to track where you are. You’re supposed to update the government where you are every so often and they’ll make sure you’re under quarantine for like two weeks before you go back out in public.”
There are other cases in which students cannot go home to their families, nor can their families come to the U.S. to visit them.
Rachel Tuttle, a neuroscience psychology major at BYU, is an American citizen who spent most of her life outside the states in different countries like Colombia, Israel and Honduras. Her family is currently living in Madrid, Spain.
“I feel really jealous of people who are able just to drive to their houses,” Tuttle said. “I’ve been having a really hard semester and with everything that happened, I just really wanted to see my family — and now I can’t.”
Amanda Galan, a Latin American studies major from Ecuador, cannot visit her family because the country’s borders are closed.
“In Ecuador, COVID-19 is growing faster than any other country in South America. President Moreno already closed the borders through land, sea and air,” Galan said. “Not having an option to go home, or my parents to come here to visit me. I also don’t have family here. It’s hard.”
In contrast, Regina Garcia, a Spanish teaching student from Leon, Mexico, is finding it easier to cope with the pandemic because she has family nearby.
“Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to have family around, but many of my friends already left,” she said.
There are still BYU international students who see the COVID-19 effects in a positive way.
Vibalia Raj, a biodiversity and conservation student from Bangalore, India, has been affected because she cannot travel to India to see her family. She said she sees COVID-19 as an opportunity to grow.
“It is important that people understand that traveling, it’s going to spread it more. Stay where you are, stay safe,” Raj said. “Especially people who are extroverts, like me, it is really hard for us, you just need people around you. But now, you are social distancing.”
For Raj, spending time at home can be a great excuse to see life more optimistic.
“I feel like this is the best time to explore yourself more because at this point you are restricted to do something you have always been doing. You have to take it positively, there is always something new you have never tried,” Raj said.