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Travel restrictions and quarantining make it difficult for international students to travel home during the winter break. Credit: Thomas Chen

Many international students find themselves unable to return to their families for winter break due to the quarantine policies of their home countries.

Students are finding it impractical to return home for the University's three-week winter break, which begins on Dec. 22 and ends on Jan. 12, as many of them will have less than a week outside of quarantine before returning to campus for the spring semester. Students subjected to quarantine would also spend Christmas and New Year’s in isolation, since countries like New Zealand, Vietnam, and Japan are requiring travelers from the United States to quarantine upon arrival even if they are fully vaccinated.

Engineering first year James Chan, who is from Hong Kong, said that he wants to use this opportunity to explore the United States instead of traveling home. He plans on visiting New York for a week and then Los Angeles instead of going back to Hong Kong, which has a 21-day quarantine policy.

“There definitely is a lot of inconvenience because I miss my parents and the food [in Hong Kong], but I feel as if it is an essential policy to keep the [COVID-19] condition controlled,” Chan said.

Like Chan, College first year Yamin Phyu Phyu, who is from Myanmar, also plans on visiting New York for the first 10 days of winter break. She will not be able to enter her dorm room in the Quad during winter break, since it will be closed to students.

Most residential buildings on campus will close on Dec. 23 with the exception of the high rises and Sansom Place West, according to the Penn Residential Services website.

Students whose dorms will be closed but wish to stay on campus over break are required to submit a form by Dec. 6 at 11:59 p.m. to relocate to an open building. If they are approved by Penn, they will be placed in Axis, Harnwell College House, Harrison College House, Rodin College House, or Sansom Place West. Those who live in Harnwell, Harrison, Rodin, and Sansom Place West must register to stay in their rooms over break in the MyHomeAtPenn portal by Dec. 23 at noon.

While some students believe Penn could be more accommodating by changing their housing policy over break, others believe Penn should make the break longer to suit the needs of international students.

“If it’s possible for the University to extend the winter break then it would be very good. But it’s kind of impossible and impractical,” Chan said.

Wharton and Engineering first year Lizzie He said the policy is inconvenient because it requires international students to move between college houses during the break. He is from mainland China, which requires all inbound travelers to quarantine for 14 days.

“My thinking is that there would be a better solution,” He said. “For example, to just let international students stay without having to move around because it's quite unnecessary.”

For these students, their home countries’ quarantine policies may prevent them from seeing their families for the whole school year.

Some countries that did not previously require travelers to quarantine are also changing their policies in light of the Omicron variant. South Korea, for example, announced a new 10-day quarantine for all visitors on Dec. 1. Cases on campus have also risen steadily over the past few weeks, with Penn strongly encouraging all students to receive their COVID-19 booster shots. 

Phyu Phyu anticipates that the next time she will see her family is in summer 2022 once the spring semester ends, but expressed that she is not upset about spending long periods of time away from home because she regularly keeps in touch with family.

“My mom calls me twice a day every day. Just five to 10 minutes, sometimes on the weekends it will be an hour,” Phyu Phyu said.