ANNIKA WALL, TRUMPET MANAGING EDITOR
WAVERLY, Iowa – On March 18, Wartburg College President Darrel Colson told students to return home.
Many of the college’s 1,505 students packed and left within the day — international students were not able to take the same action.
Yigit Kacmaz, a freshman from Turkey and one of Wartburg’s 123 international students, had already purchased and cancelled flights home due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
“Even if I don’t have it right now, I could catch it on the way,” Kacmaz said.
To return home, international students would need to take numerous modes of transportation, including buses or trains in addition to flying. That could risk exposing them and others to the virus. It is extremely contagious, medical officials say, and it is a global pandemic.
So, students who choose to come from across the world stay in Iowa now, where the number of coronavirus cases keeps rising and the governor ordered schools to close for several weeks. The international students are aware of the danger of travel. They also face challenges staying, including finding meals.
“A lot of the flights I would take back home would go through the Middle East, like through the UAE [United Arab Emirates] or Qatar,” Yvonne Wamala, a senior from eSwantini, said. “I usually go through London and [in] some of these hotspots. I would face where infections are really high, so I might have to actually take a direct flight home, and that’s sometimes a lot more expensive, but if I want to go home that’s what I have to do.”
COVID-19 can lead to serious complications in the elderly and immunocompromised, according to Alan Taege, MD, infectious disease specialist.
Sakhi Mphahlele, Wartburg senior from Gauteng, a South African province, fits into the latter category. Mphahlele has asthma.
“I would probably be safer on campus right now, just because the process of going home and being surrounded by [people], going to heavily populated airports and such is highly inadvisable, so I would be risking myself,” said Mphahlele.
“It changes the game in terms of how it would affect me, so going to airports and travelling compared to staying on campus is a no-brainer right now,” Mphahlele said.
If stranded on campus, international students also face food insecurity. Wartburg Dining Service locations either closed or enacted reduced hours with takeout as the only available option due to the virus. As campus locations closed, many students have lost on-campus jobs.
“I have no income at the moment and figuring out how I’m going to do that and pay the school are my biggest concerns,” Mphahlele said.
International students have F-1 Visas, or student visas, which also double as work-study visas. This limits students to work on-campus jobs only.
Regardless, students are trying to remain positive.
“I don’t think coronavirus defines my first year because I’ve seen everyone else with what I have done,” Kacmaz said. “All this stuff getting cancelled made me really demotivated. … Life still goes on, though. I still have to complete stuff. I’m just demotivated, but I guess this is part of life.”
If students choose to return home, they may find difficulty returning to an Wartburg in the fall. As of March 14, President Donald Trump has signed proclamations restricting travel to the United States from China, Iran, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Schengen Area, which includes European countries Austria, Norway, and Sweden, according to the U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Kacmaz said he thinks he would go home.
“I’m still positive about the future and I believe that I will come back next fall, so that’s what I’m holding on to,” he said. “If I can’t, that means no one can, so there will be some reparations for that too, so I would prefer being with the ones that I love, rather than being stuck here, not knowing whether my friends would stay here or not. I might be the only one who stays.”