By Kris Rhim
When Springfield College students went home for spring break on March 13, they left Alden Street with an uncertain future.
Schools such as Harvard, Columbia, and a bevy of other universities already canceled school for the remainder of the year. In a campus forum on March 11, President Mary-Beth Cooper announced that spring break would be extending a week and that the school would be monitoring the situation.
On March 17, just four days following the forum, the decision was made to cancel in-person classes for the rest of the semester and have students learn from home. This decision was disappointing for many, but the change brought on a different burden for international students.
For international students like Yan Luo, there came an added worry of how they would get home during a pandemic. Luo, from Shannxi, China, lives off-campus and can stay with his three friends at his home.
“(My family) wants me to come back, but the plane (ticket) is very expensive right now. The only ticket is in May with Turkish Airlines for $2,000” Luo said.
Since then, even Turkish Airlines has suspended flights to China; the earliest Luo would be able to travel is in June. Because of the 12-hour difference between the east coast and his family in Shannxi, during the school year, Luo would only talk to his family every two days or so around 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. or 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.
“Now, they call me every day!” Luo said, laughing. “They are very worried, and even my friends call me; they want me to come back.”
Deborah Alm, the Director of the International Center at Springfield College, has had relationships with all international students as she is their point person for any needs while they are in America. She initially met Luo in Beijing and helped with his application process and remains in frequent contact with him. She has also been in touch with the Ph.D. student’s family.
“The families in China were concerned about the danger of the travel–being in the airports and the airplanes–and the 14 days of quarantine that the students would be subject to upon entering China,” she said.
Alm also stressed her disappointment in students missing out on the cultural benefits that come with the study abroad experience.
“A big part of studying abroad is the exposure to cultural events and the opportunity to travel,” she said. “Just as our domestic study abroad students had their overseas experiences cut short, the international students are missing out on these important opportunities.”
In January, Luo was back home in China with his family during Springfield’s winter break. Wuhan, China, the epicenter for China’s coronavirus outbreak, had begun reporting cases of the deadly virus. Still, Luo says he wasn’t very concerned as his hometown is over 300 miles from Wuhan, and he’d be heading back to Springfield soon.
“My family was very happy that I was leaving because they didn’t know the virus was going to spread to America,” Luo said.
In the weeks following Luo’s return to Alden Street, the virus continued to spread throughout China. Still, he wasn’t panicking or worried about his family.
“Only 50 people got infected in my city, and in my city, there are one million people, so I thought it doesn’t compare to the flu,” Luo said with a smile.
Three months later, the virus has attacked the United States much worse than any other country in the world, and Lou is stuck inside his house with his three roommates. Luo’s perspective has shifted dramatically since January. “It’s so bad here right now. I am very much worried.”
To take his mind away from worrying, Luo plays Xbox Switch with his roommates. During the extra week of spring break, they played it every day; now he says, they only play every two days because they will get behind on schoolwork if they don’t. If Luo isn’t playing Xbox, he’ll play basketball at the courts next to Gulick Hall, but only with his roommates — his attempt at social distancing.
Luo has a flight booked during the first week of June back to China. He says he’s keeping his fingers crossed that it isn’t cancelled.