After the announcement of all classes being moved to distance learning for the semester, international students were left with many questions they hoped would be answered as they went into the International Student Info Session hosted by the Plattsburgh State Global Education Office in the H.U.B. Wednesday.
“I appreciate the time and effort of GEO to host the informative session last night, March 11. The session was really informative and was able to calm a large portion of students down last night,” senior management information systems and marketing major Lam Dinh said.
The main concern for most international students is traveling. While there are students considering traveling home, GEO discourages any travel outside of the U.S. at this time, with the exception of Canada. However, if students still decide to travel out of the U.S, GEO urges students to keep the office informed through email. Assistant Director Amelia Lushia also said even though GEO does not discourage traveling to Canada, more questions might be asked when coming back to the U.S.
Dinh planned a trip to Florida to celebrate the end of her college career but decided to stay on campus in fear of getting infected by with the coronavirus. Other students share the same concern.
“I personally want to go back home. However, considering the situation, I’d probably need to stay,” junior communications major Shinga Miyajima said.
He also said one of the factors affecting his decision is the 14 hours time differences that will make distance learning hard for him.
In the email GEO sent out, instructions are listed for international students to follow if they decide to leave the country. GEO recommends students print out their travel history and keep it with their passport and I-20 at all times when they travel out of the U.S.
Lushia initially said if international students are out of the U.S. for more than five months, the student will need a new I-20, SEVIS number and to pay for the SEVIS fee, and possibly a new visa. From the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website, SEVIS is a web-based system for maintaining information on international nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors in the United States.
“However, this is a weird situation that has never happened before. I would bet 98% that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is already talking about this. We just don’t know the answer yet,” Lushia said.
GEO is remaining hopeful that Homeland Security will give exemptions to this rule. Lushia received emails from Homeland Security last Monday about flexibility on certain rules applied to international students, such as the compulsory nine out of minimum 12 credit hours of face-to-face classes to keep status as full-time students, but GEO is still unclear about the decision Homeland Security will make.
Lushia also said this is the reason GEO requires the students to communicate with the GEO staff on the decision they make about traveling home, so GEO has proof that students decided to go home due to the precautions on the spreading of coronavirus.
Students were also concerned about whether the U.S. will decide to close the border. According to Associate Vice President (Global Education) and Director of International Education Jackie Girard Vogl, if that happens, for short term solutions, students would have the ability to return to class late.
“A lot of schools are nowhere near us as far as the ability to offer online learning. I think we are in a better position than many [schools],” Vogl said. “We’re all committed in providing instructions and supporting students, whatever that means.”
GEO also recommends students to check with the airline for the possibility of refunds or if tickets need to be changed or canceled. Purchasing traveler’s insurance is also encouraged as well as being sure that the insurance covers this circumstance.
For international students with UnitedHealthcare health insurance, it will be valid anywhere except for their home country. From the UHC website and app, students can find local providers and have their health insurance ID with them.
For the concern of leaving Plattsburgh and possibly returning with the coronavirus, Vogl said the decision of distance learning is to reduce the population in Plattsburgh and the carrier of coronavirus to the vulnerable population in Plattsburgh.
“If you get sick, we’ll help you. We’ll get you to the health center. We put you in quarantine. We get you the medication, we’ll bring you food. You’ll be fine,” Vogl said. “We don’t want [coronavirus] to go out to the community and get somebody who’s vulnerable sick.”
Vogl also advised students who have any underlying health issues to check in with the Student Health and Counseling Center for advice.
While the campus and services are said to remain open after spring break, students are concerned about what will be provided if they stay on campus.
“Assuming the shuttle driver is not quarantined or isolated, they will provide the service as long as they have shuttle drivers,” Vogl said.
Vogl also said the dining services will operate as it has for previous breaks and will reopen after the spring break with possible hours scaled back depending on the population remaining on campus.
GEO extended its walk-in hours to 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for larger outreach to the international students.
“As always, GEO is the great force on campus that international could rely on,” Dinh said.
Email Kai Bing Ang at firstname.lastname@example.org