Olivia Weinberg / Sun Assistant News Editor

In response to Cornell's in-person class cancellation policy, international students struggle with the decision to go home.

March 11, 2020

International Students React to Coronavirus Cancellations, Plan To Stay in U.S.

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Cornell’s Tuesday afternoon announcement directed students to leave for spring break — and, except in limited circumstances, return to their homes for the rest of the semester.

But for the 22 percent of students who are international, such a directive is far easier said than done. Along with visas and health concerns, these students must face abrupt international travel, seek an exemption from the University to stay or find last-minute accommodations in the U.S.

Kenisha Paliwal ’22 plans on staying in the country out of concern that she will not be allowed to re-enter if she leaves, fearing that the U.S. might eventually adopt Italy’s approach of locking down its borders.

While she could choose to return to her parents’ residences in either Denmark or Dubai, Paliwal said neither are options since she is “scared that if they shut down the [U.S.] borders, she would not be let back into the country.”

Paliwal currently lives in a sorority house, but according to her, what happens to her housing is ultimately up to the sorority’s decision. If she is not allowed to continue living in the house after spring break, she is “going to have to find some place in Ithaca to stay, like a hotel or Airbnb in order to avoid leaving the U.S.”

Although Cornell’s Tuesday announcement said that no in-person classes would be held after March 27, Daniel Halstead ’23, a U.K. student studying architecture, said he will return to Ithaca after spring break to complete major-specific courses.

“There was an emergency meeting in architecture earlier this week, and Architecture Studio, which is a main element of architecture, cannot be continued online,” Halstead said. “It was agreed that it has to be an in-person class, so we’ll see how that goes.”

Despite this sentiment, architecture department is actively working to move all its class online, according to department chair Prof. Andrea Simitch, architecture.

“Though challenging for a material practice discipline, the Department of Architecture is committed to, and actively planning, virtual instruction for all architecture studios,” Simitch said in a statement to The Sun. “We are happy to comply with university mitigation measures and ultimately see this as an effort in expanding our teaching practices.”

According to the University, all students currently living on campus will soon receive procedures for submitting a petition to stay on campus. Since Halstead lives off-campus, this process will not apply to him.

Marc Liu ’23, an international student from China, echoed others’ reservations about returning home, saying that he will do what he can to stay in the U.S. during and after spring break.

While China remains the country hardest-hit by COVID-19, Liu’s parents, who live in Sichuan and Guangdong provinces, are not as concerned about the outbreak as those areas are not in the “epicenter of the [outbreak] in China, so they don’t know anyone who’s really sick.”

Regardless, Liu — who lived in California during his four years of high school and hopes to find a friend who can host him there — is still trying to avoid returning to China.

“My dad says I shouldn’t go back to China, and the best thing would be to just stay in upstate New York somehow,” Liu said.

However, Benjamin Yeo ’23 will return to his native Singapore after spring break. While Yeo originally planned on going to London, that plan was canceled when the outbreak escalated in Europe.

Now, he plans on spending a few days in New York City before flying back to Singapore. But when there — a 12-hour time difference from Ithaca — he expressed concern about the feasibility of Cornell’s digital coursework.

“I’m hoping that classes won’t have to become live, or that the school will incorporate thought into the international students … I would have classes from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.,” Yeo said.

Update, March 16, 10:04 p.m.: This article was updated to include a statement from architecture department chair Prof. Andrea Simitch on the department’s efforts to move classes virtually in wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic.