To Stay or to leave: An overseas student dilemma

After hearing about the spread of the novel coronavirus in many Asian countries including her home, Hong Kong and South Korea, Sun Woo Jeon was relieved to remain far away from the epicenter neighbors at Bucknell University which she would call home for two more years – or at least that was what she had been assured.

Like Sun Woo, many overseas and exchange student’s plans to study away for the academic year came to a standstill as cases started to rise in many western countries. This prompted the Hong Kong government to issue a red travel alert on the United States and Britain – a popular higher education destination among students seeking overseas education. As of March 25, US confirmed 44,183 cases and a total of 544 deaths whilst UK saw 8,077 cases and a total of 422 deaths. 

The pandemic has left many international students baffled as to whether they should stay or leave. “It wasn’t an easy decision coming back to Hong Kong,” says Sun Woo, a 19 year old sophomore at Bucknell University, Pennsylvania from Hong Kong. “I was worried about transferring the virus to my family members if I did have it and at the same time about not being able to go back to school this fall.”

Bucknell University Campus, Source: Bucknell University Website

Bucknell University was one of the first schools in the state of Pennsylvania to close campus and make mandatory for its students to leave the school campus with the exception of students returning to home countries that are considered high-risk such as China and Iran. “The email sent to students to pack their bags and leave was out of the blue. It came to me as a big surprise as we never thought the situation would get this big [in the States], but now looking back it was inevitable. I do appreciate the support professors and academic advisers gave for international students regarding the situation.” Sun woo says.

“Because of the move to remote education, students will need to move out of on-campus housing by 6 p.m Tuesday, March 17. Understanding that many student will nonetheless have to remain on campus, we will be setting up an online petition form for those that need to remain.” 

Email sent to students and faculty members of Bucknell University from John Bravman, President of Bucknell University

Students at Bucknell were given a refund for their dorm fees but no talks were held about academic tuition fees. International students pay on average double that of the local in-state tuition fee. “I think it was right for [Bucknell] to return dorm fees during this difficult time to show solidarity and understanding. I don’t expect a return for academic fees since we were in school for most of the term and it’s not just our school suspending face-to-face classes but most of the world.”

Like all travelers from the US and Britain, Sun Woo is currently under a mandatory 14-day home quarantine. “I try to maintain a normal school routine and try to attend online lectures when possible.” This was proven difficult for her as professors would hold lectures in Eastern Daylight time – 12 hours behind Hong Kong. “Although professors have been more accommodating by uploading audio recordings and lecture slides online, the learning experience is not quite the same.”

Sun Woo’s quarantine wristband

Not all decided to leave their academic home. Christy Wong, a first year Occupational Therapy student at the University of Sydney, Australia decided not to come back home to Hong Kong amid outbreak due to opaque communications on learning modules. “I haven’t been given clear guidelines by my school of what the mode of learning would be once everything is settled. I wouldn’t want to go back home to Hong Kong then find out I’ve missed or am unable to complete my studies,” Christy says.

“We understand that there is a desire for many of you to return home given the benefits of being closer to family, friends and medical services during the pandemic. Nevertheless, we do not encourage you to travel overseas or interstate to continue your studies remotely.

Email sent to students and faculty members of University of Sydney

Hong Kong has been successful in containing the virus when it first broke through early preventative measures including, wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing but locals now fear a second wave as residents who work to study abroad return back home – bringing the virus with them. 

Featured image by Erik Oddin from Unsplash

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