Campus, Coronavirus, News

BU warns international students may have to skip Spring semester as Omicron variant complicates travel

By Tanisha Bhat and Sangmin Song

Boston University International Students & Scholars Office sent an email Dec. 7 warning students of possible complications to international travel during winter break, stating they “may be required to take a leave of absence” if they are not able to return by the beginning of the Spring semester.

Some international students said they chose not to return home over Winter Intersession after receiving the email, while others worry taking a leave of absence might derail their studies.

Boston University warns international students may not be allowed to come back spring 2022 because of Omicron
An aircraft. Boston University warns international students in an email sent Dec. 7 that they may have to take a leave of absence if they are unable to return to campus for the beginning of next semester because of the Omicron variant affecting travel. COURTESY OF DOMINIC WUNDERLICH VIA PIXABAY

Many added they wonder why remote learning options are not being offered.

The email — sent out the day after applications for Intersession Break Housing had already closed — stated new COVID-19 variants complicate travel to other countries as many are changing vaccination, quarantine and testing requirements. 

“The U.S. has recently restricted nonimmigrant entry from eight countries in Africa and may add new countries without advance warning,” the email stated. “Other countries are taking similar measures, flights are being cancelled and visa processing remains slow and unpredictable.”

The office urged students in the email to acquire reentry documentation as soon as possible and to review the ISSO Travel Advisory for their latest updates to travel restrictions.

Jeanne Kelley, managing director of ISSO, said the intention of the email was to remind international students that traveling during the pandemic is still very “complicated.” 

“We’re hoping that students will be assessing the risks of travel and making thoughtful travel decisions, so that they don’t risk not being able to be back in time for the Spring semester,” she said. 

Kelley said the Global Programs Office, in partnership with the Dean of Students’ office, will create social media groups and put together a “DIY Winter Break Package” for students remaining on-campus during the Winter Intersession.

Seungju Lim, a sophomore in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development who lives in China and Korea, said she delayed her initial flight back to South Korea following the global increase of Omicron variant cases.

When I booked my flight to Boston, I also booked a flight going back to Korea, but due to COVID and the new variant, I had to delay the flight to the summer, hoping that it will get better during summer,” she said.

Manind Gera, a first-year graduate student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences who is from India, said his initial plans relied on BU reintroducing the Learn from Anywhere model — which offered both in-person and remote learning options for students throughout the 2020-2021 academic year — in case traveling back to Boston from India became difficult.

“But then the ISSO sent out the email that there wouldn’t be any LfA next semester,” he said. “That changed my plans because if there’s no LfA, then I would be forced to take a leave of absence and that could tamper with my future.”

Students showed concern about ISSO’s statement, saying they felt the school should provide other options rather than only recommending to take a leave of absence. 

“I thought to some extent, it might make sense for the University to highly encourage students to take a leave of absence but I feel like it shouldn’t be the only option because BU did online schooling during 2020,” Lim said.

Kelley said she believes BU isn’t offering an alternative to taking a leave of absence because the school wants to continue in-person learning.

“It is my understanding that when the University decided to return to in-person instruction for the Fall, that it’s likely that they’re going to continue in-person instruction in the Spring,” she said. 

BU spokesperson Colin Riley did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Brynjolfur Brynjolfsson, a freshman in Questrom School of Business who is from Iceland, said he felt taking a  leave of absence was too strict for international students, adding his plans still include him returning to Iceland.

“It should only be natural that I get the freedom to go back and visit my family, and of course, for me, family is the most important thing so that’s why I chose to go back home,” he said. “I don’t want to be stuck here for four years.”

Kelley said it is her understanding that Residence Life is helping students who choose to remain on-campus over winter break find temporary housing.

Before applications closed on Dec. 6, Intersession Break Housing was available to current residential students to stay in the U.S. — arrangements would be made with a local hotel at a subsidized rate. However, students said they doubt this service would’ve been helpful for them. 

“No meal provided, no nothing, and there’s no kitchen in the hotel,” Lim said. “What am I supposed to eat?… they’re literally providing a room and a bed.”

Although he understands the importance of keeping classes in person, Gera said he still believes LfA should be offered in the case “flights are closed and people can not come back.”

Brynjolfsson said BU should offer better support for international students.

“They have to provide the service for us,” he said. “We don’t have to make it easier for them and we have to take a break. They should be working at full capacity to satisfy the students.”

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  1. Hey kids, BU doesn’t have to do anything for you, if you were too dumb to realize this might have been a problem. 2 months ago, sorry call your parents and have them come cook for you over winter break in the Hilton.

    Stop acting like someone else is going to solve your situation. BU and other schools are in it for the money and LFA cuts into the profits. They can’t make money on dorms or bad food or parking or anything if you are in your bed getting same education as a musty lecture hall.

    Maybe stop wishing a Covid would vanish and plan your life in the new world.

  2. This is very tough for international families and BU should be helping whatever way possible even if it means dipping into endowment funds. We are in a world pandemic and most international students pay tuition in full CASH. Helping each other now – terriers who shine for BU worldwide is goodwill gesture that will be beneficial for BU a for decades on end when many look back. This is a desperate and frightening time for many families especially overseas and we need to recognize our shared humanity now. If any students need help with food – let Dean Elmore and President Brown know. They are not heartless and surely will find a way to assist. We can also ask our BU alumni to help. That is the BU spirit!