Home For the Holidays?: Covid-19 Creates Difficulties for Traveling International Students

During November, Andover students left campus for a twelve-day break period following the end of Fall Term. Now on campus for two weeks, students will depart on December 15 for three weeks of winter break. However, many Andover students do not return home. Specifically this year, with strengthening Covid-19 restrictions, many international students have not been able to go back home, nor will they be able to in the winter.

Melissa Chang ’23, from Shanghai, China, stayed in Philadelphia with her sisters and host family instead of flying back to China over her Thanksgiving break. In order to travel back to Shanghai, Chang would have to be quarantined in a hotel for 14 days in the best case scenario. Therefore Chang has to stay in the U.S. for winter break as well.

“Since we only have twelve days of break, and the quarantine [can potentially be] twenty-one days, if I go back to Shanghai, China, that means I won’t have enough time to actually spend time with my family and also return back to school on time,” said Chang.

Naima Reid ’25, a student from Kilchberg, Switzerland, was able to return home for the past break. However, she will stay in the U.S. for winter break. The main struggle for Reid was not Covid-19 protocol, but the financial toll of traveling back and forth.

“I do think the two weeks have affected it, not because of Covid-19, but because of financial resources. It’s just a lot of money for four flights back to back within two weeks. So, that’s why I’m deciding to stay here,” said Reid.

Yasmine Tazi ’24, who stayed with a host family in the U.S. over the last break, was planning to go back home for winter break. After her ticket was purchased and plans were made, Tazi had to shift gears when Morocco shut down its borders due to Covid-19. According to Tazi, Morocco’s spontaneous announcement caused panic amongst citizens in need of returning and departing flights to and from the country.

“Their decisions are very not predictable, so we were not expecting the borders to close, and then one day at 10:00 p.m. there was an announcement on the TV and [they said starting] tomorrow no flights anymore. It was a huge panic, and people who were outside of Morocco started coming back… I have a friend at another boarding school, she was in Morocco at that time, and she had to take a flight at the exact same day to come back to the U.S. or she would have been stuck in Morocco,” said Tazi.

Tazi was not alone. Other students, such as Siiso Daauud ’23, have been and will continue to be unable to return home for break. From Waqooyi Galbeed, Somalia, Daauud had not gone home since March 2021, when he first came to Andover. This meant finding a host family for the summer, a process which Daauud described as difficult, as he had to stay in three different locations.

“My visa is one-entry, meaning every time I leave the U.S., I have to renew it. I could not go back over the summer, because the embassy was closed due to Covid-19. I am not going back home for winter break either… On top of the disappointment of knowing I will not be able to go back home for another year, finding a host family to spend three months with amid a pandemic was very hard. I stayed at three different places, so I had to travel a lot,” wrote Daauud in an email to The Phillipian.

Despite the difficulties faced by many international students, certain individuals are still able to return to their home countries for the upcoming winter break. Kira Stepanova ’25, from Moscow, Russia, plans to go home for winter break. In her return to Russia, Stepanova will have to follow a strict Covid-19 testing and quarantine process.

“In order to enter Russia as a Russian citizen (which I am) you have to fill out a form published on the Russian government website before your flight. Once you do that, you are given a QR code that you’ll need to present to one of the airport workers in Russia. In the next four days after your arrival in Russian Federation, you’ll have to take a [PCR] test and upload the results to the same government website, quarantining while you’re waiting for the results (could be from a couple of hours to two days),” wrote Stepanova in an email to The Phillipian.

Neil Shen ’22 from Vancouver, Canada stayed in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving break due to Covid-19. With the pandemic in play, Shen proposed that Andover modify the schedule for the convenience of international students.

“I think it might have been a good idea for the administration to have maybe canceled Thanksgiving break and to move the two weeks of class in between either earlier or later, just so that there’s one long break in between, and then more classes, so basically the international students won’t have to fly back and forth. I think that would be more convenient,” said Shen.

Tazi had similar thoughts and proposed some alternative ways for the school to hold the two weeks of classes. One of Tazi’s proposals was to allow international students to be remote for the two weeks between breaks.

“An extended break would have been better for many international students to come back home. Maybe [having] the opportunity to have remote classes for this week or something like that would have been very useful,” said Tazi.