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July 13, 2020

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Grappling with a dilemma not of my own making

WHEN novel coronavirus arrived in the US, most of the East Coast schools were on spring break. In early March, I read news of a case in Cape Cod, and then another article about a case in the gas station just five minutes from our school. I called my mother that night and she sent me two boxes of face masks.

In the middle of March, most of the schools in Massachusetts postponed school and required international students to return home. My friends in other schools had already bought their plane tickets, but I still hadn’t had an announcement from our school. Meanwhile, our school committee was making decisions and the campus was isolated from the outside. Our weekend activities were canceled. Domestic students could not come to campus. The gym and the sports center were closed. Food in the dining hall was contained in plastic bowls to avoid touching.

No longer than a week later, our school wrote us a letter telling us to buy a plane ticket as soon as possible. However, things didn’t go as we had hoped. Many countries enforced travel bans, which made my journey back to China much more of a problem. Finally, I transferred twice to Newark and Singapore and then back to Shanghai in late March.

I started taking virtual classes after my 14 days in quarantine. Although I lived under the same roof as my family, we were living in different time zones. I had classes from 9pm to 3am, went to sleep at 4am and woke up at around 11am. I had lunch as breakfast at the weekend and made my breakfast on weekdays. That period was a nightmare for me, so since then I’ve been looking forward to going back to campus.

As the saying goes, “The road to happiness is strewn with setbacks.” The US requires Chinese citizens to spend 14 days in quarantine in a third country before entering the country. It was a bolt of lightning for someone like me who didn’t have a visa for a third country.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Monday released new information — “Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States” and “active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures.”

I couldn’t stay at home and have virtual classes for a whole year, or my I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status) would be out of date.

Now I’m just going to wait for our next school meeting for international families to provide more support on visas and I-20 status and the school’s reaction to the ICE announcements. And there’s nothing more I can do but prepare for the next policy announced by the US government.


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