For first-year Lin Poyraz ’23, Cornell’s consistent policy changes over the last week have taken an expensive toll: On Saturday morning, she rebooked her flight to Turkey for the fourth time in five days.
A Risley Hall resident, Poyraz is currently booked on a Sunday flight to her home country — changing her travel plans twice in less than 24 hours, after she learned that Turkish students studying in Europe have until Monday to return to the country. Turkey also announced it was not accepting flights from certain countries in Europe starting Friday, and there are limited flights incoming from Japan and South Korea.
The evolutionary biology and anthropology major said it is only “a matter of time” before U.S. students may be added to the list. Poyraz added that she is glad Cornell cancelled classes on Friday, as she otherwise may have been blocked from her country by spring break.
Poyraz’s most recent flight changes were motivated by President Martha E. Pollack’s announcement Friday afternoon that the University would suspend all classes starting at 5 p.m, urging students to “de-densify” the campus to address concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak. This reversed the administration’s decision from earlier in the week to hold in-person classes until March 27 as professors transitioned to online classes, with full virtual instruction set to begin April 6.
Due to this latest development, international students’ decisions were flung into further disarray. Some who were earlier staying on-campus until the beginning of spring break or previously had plans to remain in Ithaca now scrambled to make plans to leave the country as soon as possible.
Kenisha Paliwal ’22 of Denmark had planned to stay in her sorority house after Pollack’s initial announcement on March 10. Now, she is getting ready to vacate her room — a decision she is afraid of because it means that she might not be able to re-enter the United States until next semester.
“If I go to Denmark, I can’t come back into the U.S.,” Paliwal said. “So me leaving, is me leaving till August. ”
As of 11:59 p.m. on Friday, any foreign nationals trying to enter the United States who were in Europe’s Schengen Area — 26 countries stretching from Iceland to Greece — in the past 14 days will not be allowed to enter for the next 30 days, according to a directive issued by President Donald Trump. It is unclear if there are plans to enforce further travel restrictions as the pandemic spreads.
Paliwal appreciated that Cornell canceled classes while everyone struggled to situate themselves, but wished there had been a single unified decision, instead of the current situation with numerous changes.
“I just wish they had thought through it first and said this all at once, than have three different emails come out saying three different things — it’s consistently changing,” Paliwal said.
The first announcement that students received about Cornell’s approach to containing the coronavirus was on March 10. President Pollack encouraged all undergraduate students to leave campus and go to their “permanent home residence” after spring break, announcing that virtual instruction would begin on April 6.
Following this initial announcement, the 22 percent of students at Cornell who are international rushed to find answers about how professors would deal with time zones, whether they would be allowed to stay on campus and if the University would provide refunds or storage solutions if they did plan to leave.
The initial announcement came on Tuesday and, just when students were getting used to their semesters being cut short, Pollack announced Friday afternoon that classes would be suspended later that evening, with all students encouraged to leave as soon as possible.
Later that afternoon President Trump declared a national emergency and Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino also declared a state of emergency, closing all K-12 schools in the local area until April 13. There is currently one confirmed case of coronavirus in the county.
Fabio Cabrera ’23 is also uncertain whether to stay in Ithaca or return home to Colombia. As a freshman, he is in a unique position as he is one of the few first-years living in off-campus housing. He currently plans to stay, but he is still evaluating the “many variables” to see whether he should go back to Colombia — from his visa status to his country’s health system.
Cabrera said he thinks there is much more opportunity for the virus to be controlled in Ithaca than in Colombia, but is concerned that if Colombia shuts its borders to contain the virus, he would be stuck here.
“The situation is very stressful,” Cabrera said. “I’m trying my best to stay here, but the cost of living is higher in the U.S.”
While Cornell’s decisions created confusion for many internationals, others received word about their housing petitions being approved to continue staying on campus and were feeling secure about their near future for the first time in a week.
At 4:30 p.m. Friday, Beijing resident Yue Ji ’23 received confirmation that her petition to continue staying on campus had been approved. She knew she had wanted to stay on North Campus from the start with all the resources to go to school and her plans have not changed, even with the two-week suspension.
Ji plans on using the newfound free time to work on coding projects and making videos with her friends.
Now that her petition has been approved, Ji is allowed to continue living in her room in Low Rise 7. However, it is possible that she could be asked to move to another residence hall if the University decides to shutter some on-campus dormitories.
“When I confirmed my petition, the University made clear that they can ask me to move out and to go to another dorm any time,” she said.
Overall, even though Ji has her housing secured, she is still confused in this “uncertain time” and not sure who to turn to for help.
“I feel like I am kind of lost,” Ji said.