As Penn's campus empties out, students' evacuation plans are far from simple – for many international students, leaving Penn means making long journeys across the globe and through crowded airports during a pandemic.
Following Penn's decision to move all classes online beginning March 23, International Student & Scholar Services sent an email asking international students to return to their home countries, except those from nations designated level three risk by the Centers for Disease Control: China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea.
While some international students are able to remain in their off-campus housing, many students living on campus are scrambling to book flights home before travel restrictions are put into place. But for some, leaving campus is not a viable option.
If College first-year Ashwarya Devason were to leave her residence in Kings Court English College House to return to her home in Mauritius, she would face over 35 hours of travel. And if she has a temperature upon landing, a mandatory two-week quarantine in a government facility awaits her.
Though Devason is relieved Student Financial Services would cover the cost of traveling home, she said keeping up with schoolwork would be very difficult at home due to the eight-hour time difference and lack of dependable technology.
"I'm a highly-aided student, so I don't necessarily have access to all the technology and facilities I would have on campus, for instance computers or software," she said. "I would not necessarily have that back home. Also, I would probably not have a very reliable internet connection."
Both international and domestic students can apply to stay on campus through an online portal by March 14, and the email said they should receive a decision within 24 hours of applying. President Amy Gutmann sent an email to all undergraduates with the link to the portal on March 12, a day after the school initially announced its transition to online courses and asked students to leave campus.
Devason said she applied to stay on campus March 12, and has yet to receive a response from the school. For now, she has not packed her things and waits in limbo, watching as most of her dorm building empties out.
"It's stressful – I don't even know what to say to my parents either, because they're also waiting for the response from housing," Devason said.
If approved to stay on campus, she still does not know if she will be allowed to stay at Kings Court and where she will be able to eat.
"They haven't said anything about where they're going to move us," she said. "They said that if people choose to stay during the rest the semester, there were going to be limited dining options available, but we don't know what that means. What is going to be open?"
Engineering and Wharton junior Maher Abdel Samad said he is frustrated by the University's vague instructions and lack of clarity when initially announcing its plan.
"You can't just put out an email and just wait 24 hours for it to simmer. You have to be able to handle that initial rush because you're a university," he said. "A university is not just a place you go and learn, it's a community, it's a place where people live."
Though he lives off campus, and therefore does not have to return to his home country of Lebanon, which has already been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, he is frustrated for his peers, many of whom began to panic about losing their student visas and flooded ISSS with calls after the first email was sent.
College junior Rebecca Jiang did not originally plan to leave campus and return to her home country of Australia, but now feels risking the journey and taking online classes despite a substantial time difference is her best option.
Jiang, who lives in Harrison College House, said she considered renting from friends living off-campus for the duration of the semester, but worried about the added cost of extra rent, as well as having access to resources if local shops in Philadelphia began running out of necessities.
She is now scrambling to pack up her apartment and prepare for over 30 hours of travel, as well as a 21-hour layover in Hawaii.
"There's a lot of concerns with how the [United States] is handling the virus itself, and there's just a lot of concerns among my family members about whether Philadelphia is safe," Jiang said.
Wharton first-year Katherine Yuan counts herself as one of the luckier international students, as she does not to have to deal with a large time difference when returning home to Canada.
However, Yuan is still struggling to pack up her room in the Quad, find a place to store things she cannot take with her, and deal with the emotional challenge of leaving most of her friends indefinitely.
"I just live so far away from everybody," she said. "I didn't get to say goodbye to my friends, and I just have to leave, and I'm not allowed to go back on campus to see anybody again until the fall. So that sucks, but obviously I understand why. It's just a terrible situation."
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