Quarantining 4500 miles from home

Being an international student during a pandemic

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Some international students have host families, some will stay in the dorms and some will try to book the last available flights to rush home across the world before their countries close the borders completely.

Only a week ago I was wrapping up the draft for my last article, going to my weekly cycling class and planning my spring break. I called my brother on Wednesday morning to wish him a happy birthday.

He proceeded to tell me he is working from home because offices, schools and kindergartens in Europe are closing down for a month. He told me to be prepared for the same situation here.

That was the morning most UW schools announced they are suspending face-to-face instruction starting March 14.

Being an international student is not the best position to be in right now. When the best advice from literally everyone is to either go or stay home, staying in the dorms might not be the most appealing option.

It was overwhelming to watch dozens of cars leaving upper campus. One by one, each car filled with residents’ belongings. In no time, the campus would feel like a ghost town.

Some international students have host families, some will stay in the dorms and some will try to book the last available flights to rush home across the world before their country closes the border completely.

We can’t just load up the car, grab our pillows and plants and go home to Minnesota in a matter of hours.

I am beyond grateful to have a safe place to stay, but this is not the case for everyone. In the past couple of days, I have seen my friends book flights back to Denmark and Norway. Our goodbyes have been rushed.

I am one of the three Latvian international students here at UW-Eau Claire. The other two are considering going home as well, not knowing if they will have a place to quarantine themselves upon arrival.

There is a huge dilemma among us right now — going home and being with our loved ones while the current situation unfolds or quarantining on this side of the world and avoiding any kind of travel.

I have studied abroad three times now and of course there are times I miss my family and friends back home, but I always know the end date. I always know when I will be going home. This time it is different.

I think the top keyword on my Facebook messenger right now would be “safe.” 

Stay safe. Are you safe? I am safe. I hope you are safe. Tell them to be safe. Safety, to me, means staying in one place, even if it means not knowing that end date.

It is an overwhelming time for everyone. There are adjustments, choices and sacrifices to be made. 

Everyone has an opinion, everyone is an expert, everyone is on the spectrum of mild to severe fear.

My choice is to stay where I am, in quarantine, continuously educate myself on the current situation and stay hopeful — to get some sleep. 

I called my mom this morning and asked how the dogs were doing. They are enjoying spring.

I will try to enjoy spring, as well — quarantining 4,500 miles away from home. The Wisconsin landscape does not look that different from Latvia, anyway. 

Klavina can be reached at [email protected]