Some University of Maryland international students are nervous about traveling abroad after a new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, was classified by the World Health Organization on November 26.
Krisha Gandhi, a freshman planning on majoring in computer science, originally from Mumbai, India, moved to the United States in August. Gandhi wanted to come to the U.S. to study, to expand her global knowledge and get to know people from different backgrounds and cultures, she said.
Since Gandhi’s parents live in India, she has had to get used to having a lot more independence and freedom. However, with that came more responsibility as well, she said. She has not seen her parents since coming to the U.S. at the beginning of the semester.
Gandhi is a permanent resident in the U.S., meaning she does not require a visa to live here. It also means that UMD technically doesn’t consider her an international student, even though she moved from India and her family still lives there. Instead, she is seen as an out of state student by the university.
The last day of final exams is December 21. However, Gandhi’s last assignment for the semester is due earlier, so she will be flying to Mumbai on December 20 . Before her flight she will have to take a COVID-19 test, but other than that she hasn’t seen any restrictions yet, she said.
“I’m hoping that because I’m a permanent resident they will treat me as a citizen. They’re looking at me as a citizen rather than an international student [at the university], which kind of gives me a higher chance of coming back into the country,” Gandhi said, as she is a little worried that travel restrictions may change over the course of winter break.
To reach Mumbai, Gandhi will have to take three different flights, so she is concerned about coming into contact with someone who has been infected. She hopes that with the new variant, airlines will be firm in their COVID-19 policies.
UMD offered students the option to stay on campus over winter break. Students could choose to stay for the full break, or only stay on campus from January 2 to January 22.
Students who live on South Campus or in Elkton Hall have the option of staying in their current dorms over the break. North Campus residents who wanted to stay on campus, however, will be placed in a “temporary lounge space,” where they will be living with up to five other students, according to the Department of Resident Life.
Staying on campus was never something Gandhi considered doing. She doesn’t understand how students are expected to pack everything they need for over a month just to live in a lounge. Students not being allowed to stay in their dorms is a messy situation, she said.
Aryan Marwah, a sophomore computer science and applied mathematics major, felt the same way. Marwah thought staying in a lounge over break was both expensive and not an appropriate option for him. He felt uncomfortable with the idea, even when it was offered over Thanksgiving break, which would only have been for a few days.
Marwah is originally from New Delhi, India and moved to the United States in January. He had been planning to go back to India over winter break, but decided not to go as soon as the first Omicron case was announced in California. The individual in California tested positive in late November.
“It was a bit tough on me because I have not seen my parents for almost a year now,” Marwah said.
Instead, he will be staying with his uncle in Illinois. Despite the disappointment, Marwah is also relieved that he will not have to go through all the COVID-19 testing and formalities that come with traveling abroad during the pandemic, he said.
Since he still has to fly to Illinois, Marwah[sc] is nervous about traveling at all during the pandemic. However, he will be getting his COVID-19 booster shot on December 22, as soon as he finishes his final exams, he said.
The pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for international students to travel back to their home countries, visit family, and plan for the future because of how quickly things are changing, but students look forward to winter break as finals end.