International students are expressing frustration toward the University’s failure to provide them with self-administered coronavirus tests and the lack of flexibility around move-in times.
Penn announced additional information about the fall on July 31, which included that the vast majority of classes would be offered online and Penn would ship at-home test kits for domestic students to self-administer prior to moving in. International students, however, are “encouraged, but not required” to receive a coronavirus test before returning to the United States, according to an email sent to international students by International Student and Scholar Services.
Rising College sophomore Lulu Schmitt said Penn’s willingness to pay and ship at-home test kits to its domestic students but not international students is a testament to how Penn has overlooked the needs of its international students.
“I don't really see how [international students] are in any different of a situation than domestic students,” Schmitt said.
Rising College first year Serrane Reaz, who is from Bangladesh, has decided not to come to campus this fall. While she is not returning to campus, Reaz echoed Schmitt’s call for the University to subsidize at-home testing for those who are returning due to the high cost to get a coronavirus test in Bangladesh.
International students also criticize other aspects of the process of returning to campus. As part of the staggered move-in process, students living on campus must sign up for a two-hour time slot to move-in, which students say is not hardly feasible if traveling from abroad. International students are also recommended to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival to campus.
Choosing a specific move-in time slot was a challenge for rising College first year Shana Zadeh, who hails from Panama. She plans to return to campus this fall and hopes that Residential Services will be flexible with the move-in process, especially if she cannot make the time slot she signed up for due to complications at the airport.
“The airport in Panama is closed. There are very limited flights and very limited seats, with only two or three flights to the U.S. per week. I just had to kind of guess my move-in date, the latest possible, to make sure that if I am going to move in, I'll be able to get there in time,” she said.
Similarly, rising Wharton first year Prakruthi Raghavendra, who is from India, said she is concerned that her flight to the U.S. will be canceled due to the pandemic. She added that the lack of flexibility in move-in procedures makes planning difficult.
“There is nothing I could do [if my flight is canceled] because I don't really think that's in Penn’s hands," Raghavendra said. "It’s in the government’s hands, which is why I’m prepared to stay back at home if the situation changes."
Some international students said their primary concern with coming to campus and the initial lack of testing for international students is contracting the coronavirus, either while traveling to Penn or once they arrive on campus.
For Raghavendra, however, returning to campus could potentially be safer than quarantining at her home in India. One of the main reasons she chose to return to campus was because of the contact tracing and protocols Penn has put in place to prevent and handle an outbreak.
“If I stay in India, I would have to be stuck at home all day, and because of the population density, it’s just a much worse situation,” Raghavendra said.
Penn's procedures for international students include two coronavirus tests when they arrive on campus. All students will be required to enter symptoms daily into the two-way texting system PennOpen Pass to indicate that they are healthy in order to access campus buildings. Students will also be tested throughout the semester in surveillance testing of small groups, and students in quarantine will be contacted daily by Penn's contact tracers for health check-ins.
Reaz, however, found it ironic that many international students are planning to leave countries where they are less likely to contract coronavirus and risk coming to the U.S. where cases have surpassed 5 million. The U.S. currently has one of the highest global case counts.
“For most of us, the coronavirus pandemic is actually better where we are than it is in the US. So it's not to say that extra testing and quarantines are unnecessary, but it just feels like we're really the ones facing dangers, just by traveling,” Reaz said.