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Indian students scramble to fly home as US colleges switch to remote classes due to coronavirus outbreak

With colleges shutting down abruptly, foreign students from far-away places like India navigate a logistics nightmare to chart their way home.
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   12-03-2020

US colleges suspended classes encouraging students to pack up and go

Tufts, Harvard and Northeastern joined a sea of US universities that announced a hard fork to online learning on Wednesday, canceling all in-person classes and, in some cases, asking students not to remain on campus, as a sense of exigency about the coronavirus gripped America.

Students at Tufts University, in Boston are making an exodus from the campus.

“My college classes have been canceled till September. I’ve had to pack up my bedroom in an hour. I’m heading to the airport to catch a flight to Bangalore tonight,” Mira Chhatwal, a freshman at Tufts University, told

“I will have to be nocturnal to join the US online classes from India. But I first have to get home,” she added. “That itself is a logistical nightmare in the current landscape.”

Many of the US colleges said that they were pausing in-person classes after students or staff members tested positive for the virus.

The closures began in Washington state, and now include Columbia University, Princeton University, Rice University, Stanford University, Hofstra University, University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Washington, among others.

Chaotic evacuation

“You spend four years at a university, and you work incredibly hard and expect that at the end you can tie a bow on it and wrap it up,” Isabella Kwasnik, a senior at Harvard told “The New York Times” as students across campus fretted about logistics, and fumed over what they saw as a chaotic evacuation.

“But there’s this unexpected outcome,” she said. “It’s just a logistical and emotional nightmare.”

According to US media outlets, as of this week, more than half a million students are affected by the cancellations.

Columbia University canceled classes this week because a person at the school is under quarantine from coronavirus exposure.

“One of the students in Columbia is in self-quarantine as his parents have been hospitalized with coronavirus,” Alice Hudson, an executive MBA student at Columbia University, in New York, told

Meanwhile, Hofstra University on Long Island canceled this week’s classes when a student reported flu-like symptoms Sunday after attending a conference with a person who later tested positive for coronavirus.

Others, such as Midland University in Nebraska, said they were canceling "out of an abundance of caution."

Medical screening

Meanwhile, the Embassy of India, in Washington quickly put out a travel advisory. It states that students returning from the US will undergo a medical screening at the very least. 

“All incoming travelers, including Indian nationals, would be subject to medical screening and can be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days on their arrival in India,” said the advisory sent to

Quarantine and isolation

On the other hand, the advisory is clear that all incoming travelers, including Indian students, arriving from or having “visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after 15 February 2020 will be quarantined for a minimum 14 days.”

“This will come into effect from 1200 GMT (0800 EST) on 13 March 2020 at the port of departure,” said the advisory.

Student visa concerns

Northeastern University has moved to online instruction at its campus in Seattle, and the school’s president is asking the federal government not to revoke the visas of foreign students who have been forced to go back home.

Joseph E Aoun sent a letter to Chad F Wolf, acting secretary of the federal Department of Homeland Security, asking Wolf “to provide immediate relief to students holding F-1 visa status who…need to access courses online to minimize disease transmission and safeguard public health.”

Typically, student visas require in-person instruction and limit a student’s ability to participate in online courses, Aoun said in the letter seen by the “Boston Globe.”

US colleges suspended classes encouraging students to pack up and go
One after the other, like dominoes, US colleges suspended classes encouraging students to pack up and go.

“Given the extraordinary circumstances required to protect public health, relief from the in-person learning requirements for F-1 international students at Northeastern in Seattle — and at higher education institutions around the country — is not only necessary to prevent disruption to students’ studies, but is also manifestly in the public interest as community spread of COVID-19 widens across the United States,” Aoun wrote. “Students should not be put in the difficult position of risking their health or jeopardizing their education.”

The department confirmed receiving the letter to Northeastern, but offered no response to its comments, according to a spokeswoman for the university.

The university is understandably concerned as the statistics speak for themselves. Northeastern has more than 700 students at its Seattle campus, about 60% of whom are foreign students on F-1 student visas.

Meeting moving needs

Meanwhile, Collegeboxes, a leading student storage and shipping provider in the US, told students that their personal belongings can be handled on “short notice” as institutions like Cornell notify students they are not to return to campus after spring break due to coronavirus precautions.

“The transition of on-campus classes to online instruction is expected to prompt an exodus of students from campus housing facilities this week in New York and various parts of the US,” a spokesperson told

The company said that with the international option, items can be shipped anywhere across the globe. Students also may also opt to have Collegeboxes hold their personal belongings in climate-controlled storage at a nearby U-Haul facility while they are away, said the company.



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