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Penn State’s Change Of Plans Hangs International Students Out To Dry

As soon I learned Penn State was going to begin its spring semester remotely, I panicked. 

Last spring, when Penn State shifted classes to remote instruction, I decided that for my safety it was better for me to return to Brazil, my home country. After booking the last flight available from LATAM Airlines, I quickly packed up my dorm room, left my things in a friend’s apartment downtown, took a bus to New York, and made the trip back home where I spent the rest of the semester and summer.

This fall, due to travel restrictions and the fact that most of my classes were online anyway, I decided to stay home. Now, for the spring, considering that I had most of my classes in person, a job, and an internship lined up, I booked my ticket back to the U.S. so I could attend those in-person classes and do the internship that I was so excited for.

The travel restriction is still in place, which means that I need to spend 15 days quarantining in a third country before being able to enter the U.S. Since November I have my plane tickets ready for the trip from Brazil to Mexico, where I’ll be quarantined for two weeks, and then from Mexico to the United States. I even planned to arrive back in the U.S. a week before classes start just in case something goes wrong. 

I had everything ready for the trip back to State College that I was going to begin this Thursday, so imagine my shock when I got the email saying that all classes would be remote from January 19 until February 15 and that on-campus residences will not be reopened for normal operation during the remote-learning period.

To make things even better, Penn State sent the email on a Friday, meaning that I was left to panic wonder about what I was going to do for an entire weekend. I had sent emails to the Housing Office asking about the possibility for me to stay on campus as they suggested for students with extenuating circumstances. I also booked the first available appointment slot with an international student advisor on Monday to get insight on what I should do.

During that weekend, I was trying to find solutions. What if Penn State didn’t grant me housing for the whole month of online classes? Administrators sent emails too late, exactly one month before classes start, and with less than a week left until I was supposed to leave for my trip. Were they not thinking about students who might have already made travel plans? 

I am sure that are many other students in the same situation as me. Is it too late for every person with travel plans in place to cancel the plane tickets and the hotels? Would it affect their academics too much if some people had to take 20-hour plane rides in February after their classes fully started?  How much money would the late cancellation fees cost?

I got an answer from Housing quickly by Monday morning, which eased some of my worries…but not too much. The email read: “It is expected that we will be able to accommodate you on campus, but we do not have any details in regards to cost or how to ‘formally’ make a request at this time. As soon as details are finalized we will be reaching out to our students via PSU email in the near future, so please keep monitoring your account for important communications from the Housing Assignment Office.”

Cool. They expect to be able to house me. But they don’t know yet how and when. Should I trust them? To be safe, I already talked to some friends with off-campus housing to ask if I can live on their couch for a month. Just in case.

The talk I had with the international student advisor also didn’t help, as they didn’t have much information regarding housing. However, the lady that talked to me on the phone was very empathetic and wrote down my e-mail to keep sending me information about how to proceed as she got more news (If you’re reading this, thank you!).

I am also trying to keep up with the testing requirements for students who must return to the campus community. The last thing I want is to get sick before or during my trip since I know that this will bring me more headaches. 

I just wish that Penn State was more consistent about the return to in-person classes. For me, it is exhausting to need to keep wondering about where I will live for a month considering that I committed to on-campus housing months ago. I hate that the return I planned so carefully was quickly shaken and I was left to deal with the inconsistency.

Whether it’s confusing planning or a lack of transparency, it feels like administrators aren’t thinking about students who live far away.

As international students, we deserve solid answers. 

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About the Author

Renata Daou

Renata is a sophomore majoring in International Politics and one of Onward State's contributors. She's from Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil and no, she doesn't live in the middle of the Amazon forest. She likes learning new languages, reading, writing, and talking about the one time she went bungee jumping.
Follow her on Twitter @renatadaou to see her rant in Portenglish

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