Public-health experts told me colleges made the right decision to reduce the spread on campuses, but that students could inadvertently take the coronavirus home with them — a risk that was heightened when many took part in spring break.
Kaela and An had no plans to hit the beach, but they were anxious about the potential of contracting the virus in congested airports or on long international flights and bringing it home to their families, who were by then sheltering in place. “I was flipping out,” An said.
The choices today aren’t easy for any students, but the women’s dilemma underscores how much more complicated the stakes are for those who travel overseas to study. Remaining on campus leaves students far from the social supports of family and longtime friends — and, with global travel restrictions, who knows for how long. But when staying home is one of the most effective things people can do to reduce the rate of infection, international travel is high-risk behavior, for students and for their loved ones.
Even as she appealed to stay, An and her parents made a plan for her return. Her mother and father would each drive a car to LAX, then leave one for her. She would drive herself to her suburban Los Angeles home, immediately quarantining from the rest of her family.
Eventually, though, her petition was successful, and she was granted permission to stay, as long as she signed a waiver freeing the university of responsibility. Kaela was, too.
Late last week, Singapore announced it was putting in place more restrictive measures, closing many businesses and schools. Still, when I checked in on Saturday, An said she was trying to focus on her studies and hoped to finish out the semester.
Kaela has other plans. She wants to remain in Singapore through the summer, rather than return to her family outside San Francisco. “My parents made it explicitly clear,” she said, “they don’t want me to come home until it gets better in America.”