Coronavirus leaves students in limbo as campuses scramble to contain pandemic

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Emory University sophomore Alex Ceballos was 1,600 miles away from campus when he found out that he was going to have to move out of his dorm because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

He’d gone home to Colorado for spring break, and won’t be getting back to campus until Sunday.

The school told students that that they would have to move out of their dorms by March 22 and that classes would be taught remotely for the rest of the semester.

As colleges and universities around the United States cancel in-person classes and taking other steps to protect against the coronavirus, the decisions pose particular challenges for international students, who are far from home, and students like Ceballos, who can’t afford a cross-country move.

Ceballos, a biology major on a pre-med track, is in touch through group chats with classmates, who are also trying to figure out what to do.

“I know a lot of my friends … are kind of freaking out,” he said. “They’re trying to figure out boxes, if they’re going to get refunds on housing, if Emory’s gonna help pay for the flights home.”

They don’t have a lot of information yet, he said.

In a statement on its website, Emory said that students can contact the housing department if they need additional assistance.

Ceballos said he’s trying to find an apartment near the Atlanta, Georgia, campus with three of his friends because he thinks he’ll have a better chance of getting an internship or a job over the summer. If that doesn’t work, he’ll have to put his stuff in storage and buy a ticket back to Colorado.

Either option is going to cost a lot of money that he doesn’t have.

Ceballos was trying to line up a job on campus, but that’s probably fallen through. He said his parents live paycheck-to-paycheck, so they would probably have to borrow the money to help him out.

“It would definitely not be easy to put together [the money], especially within such a short notice, he said.

Ceballos said he’s been talking with friends at other schools, who are in the same boat to see what they’re doing.

“I feel like it’s kind of a thing that everyone is going through together. So I’m not really alone,” he said.

Online classes and real world concerns

Stanford University is holding virtual classes for the rest of its winter and spring quarters, but it has not asked students to move out of their dorms.

Sharon Du, an international student from Melbourne, Australia, told CNN that she doesn’t think that will change, but she’s nervous.

She works as a research assistant on campus and would lose a lot of income if she had to leave. Then there’s the cost of a last-minute flight to Australia and finding a place to store her stuff.

Plus, the 18-hour time difference between Melbourne and Stanford would make it pretty tough to attend online classes.

“I’ve had friends invite me to stay with them, but unfortunately they live in places like Denver or Houston, which would still require me paying for flights,” she said.

She said some of her friends in the LGBTQ community don’t have good relationships with their families, so going home isn’t an option for them, either.

Can’t go back to Iran

Harvard senior Soheil Sadabadi found out on Thursday that he will be able to stay on campus, which is a relief because he can’t go home.

He is from Iran, where the World Health Organization says there are 9,000 confirmed cases of the disease. The CDC has declared it a Level 3 destination and warned people to avoid nonessential travel to the country.

Sadabadi said Harvard’s decision to end in-person classes and have students move out felt very sudden and created a lot of uncertainty

“It’s mainly a limbo situation where if I knew what was going to happen, I would have I would be much more fine with it, but I had zero clue,” he told CNN on Wednesday.

Sadabadi is a computer science major and has a job lined up in the area when he graduates. He and his roommates plan to get an apartment together after graduation.

“So I’m lucky my situation despite looking very grim on the outside, because I’m from Iran, is actually not too bad,” he said.

Harvard said on its website that it is making arrangements to help students, who can’t afford to fly home and they’re also helping them pay to store or ship their belongings.

“The financial aid office was literally sitting in the dining hall today just swiping the credit card and buying flights for people because they knew that a lot of people just can’t afford to fly home,” senior Carrington Walsh told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin.

Walsh said she works three jobs on campus and that it was probably going to be tough to find work when she gets home.

Balancing school work and goodbyes

Awnit Marta was initially afraid that he would have to go back home to the United Kingdom without finishing his senior thesis project at Harvard.

The electrical engineering student is designing and building an automatic chai tea maker and he needs the department’s laser cutters and other equipment to finish the project.

Marta is still finishing the components for the complicated machine that will make chai in the traditional South Asian style. He said it was too fragile to transport at this stage, and so he can’t work on it remotely.

He found out on Thursday that he may have to change rooms, but he can stay on campus until May 17.

Marta said the situation has made him reflect on his four years at Harvard.

In between school work and packing, Marta said he and his friends have been celebrating a truncated Senior Week, because they don’t know if they’ll be able to come back to campus before they graduate.

He said he’s seen a lot of students sitting outside on Harvard Yard “trying to absorb everything.”

“It’s very bittersweet that we only have a few more days to really enjoy this place, embrace this place and say goodbye to everyone,” he said.