Academics, health and finance are the top three concerns for international students debating whether they will return to campus in the fall. USC recently announced that they will have in-person classes during the Fall 2020 semester.
“It’s too [much of a] hurry for me to complete those courses,” Elena Pan, an economic/mathematics and business administration major, said after noticing a shorter upcoming semester.
Favoring online classes for next semester, Pan also worried about social life.
“We don’t have time to meet and talk to people,” she said.
Including Pan, many international students from China are currently back home. Due to changes in travel restrictions, students could experience trouble finding a direct flight and weeks of quarantine upon arrival to the U.S.
Cai Li, a communications major, commented that travel restrictions and quarantine requirements can make the journey back to campus, “a waste of time, a waste of money, and an extreme waste of energy.”
According to the USC COVID-19 Resource Center, international students who plan to return to campus can contact USC’s foreign offices for assistance. In China, there are offices located in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taiwan. USC will also provide support if the CDC and LA County Department of Public Health require students to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Instead of returning to campus in the fall, Li is considering staying in China and taking her classes online. She also pointed out that international students would have to pay a large amount for medical services if they contract COVID-19.
“We want to avoid that,” she added.
USC currently only provides medical coverage for students to get tested for COVID-19.
Getting a visa poses yet another challenge. Given that visa reapplication is going to be a long process, Li hopes that USC will find a solution for those who cannot make it back to campus on August 17.
International students who intend to take a semester off can apply for a leave of absence, according to the Office of International Service’s website. A new visa application is required if a leave of absence is longer than five months.
Leo Chu, an international relations major, is also not planning to return to campus unless, “it is not hard and not too expensive to get an airplane ticket.” According to Chu, coming back to campus is doable when there is a conclusion to the protests and control over COVID-19.
“I definitely don’t want to live in a place where the pandemic is still going on,” Chu said. He is intending to sublease his housing.
For students living off-campus, free legal support is available at the USC Housing Law Clinic, USG and GSG, according to the USC COVID-19 Resource Center.
Apart from students, Chinese parents also have many concerns for the fall semester.
Ben Zhang, a father of a Roski design student, told Annenberg Media that his main concern was still the pandemic.
“I kept track of the number of cases in LA county every day,” said Zhang, “and so far I don’t see the new COVID-19 cases falling.”
For next semester, he preferred to let his daughter, Leslie Zhang, stay in China for a while and go back to campus when the pandemic fades away.
Zhang also expected to hear more detailed social distancing guidelines from the university.
“Things like how dining halls will operate and how students can use the central air conditioner are complicated and require further explanations, since USC has such a large student population,” he said.
Based on the information available on the USC COVID-19 Resource Center website, members of the USC community can attend at-home training sessions before returning to campus. The university will take disciplinary actions if students fail to follow the campus and public health policies and guidelines.
Another concern of Zhang’s concerns is how the grading will work.
“If some students study online while others go to lectures, I don’t think it’s fair to grade them on [the] same rubric,” he said.
Similarly, Tianai Gu expressed her concern about education quality. As the mother of a USC architecture student, Lucy Rong, Ms. Gu said in-person instruction and on-location field study are the core elements in her child’s professional training.
Apart from education, Gu raised her concern about the unpredictable future of US-China relations. She’s afraid that in decision making, the two governments are inclined to ignore the interests and rights of international students.
“We value education[al] opportunity and resources very much,” Gu said. “So our priority remains returning to campus as soon as possible.”
On May 29, 2020, President Trump issued a presidential proclamation, aimed at restricting the entry of graduate students and researchers in STEM and tied with the Chinese military. Many parents including Ms. Gu worried the visa restriction might tighten up for undergraduates as well in the future, making it more difficult for Chinese students to finish their higher education in the States.
“If necessary,” Gu continued, “I’ll let my kid stay in the U.S. [without going home during the school breaks] for the next three years.”