Sarah Hancock, ‘22, second from left, and her family are Italian citizens and recently moved to Lago di Viverone in Northeast Italy. Due to the travel ban, Hancock cannot return home. (Courtesy of Sarah Hancock)

Amid pandemic, international students unable to return home


With the rapid spread of the coronavirus throughout the world, Lehigh has moved to online classes, and students have been told to leave campus, though international students may not be able to travel home.

Housing Services closed the residence halls to all students without permission to stay, and even those who live off campus were recommended to return home.

Eleni Karyofylli, ‘22, is remaining on campus for the rest of the semester, and said she can tell how empty the campus is.

“It is weird that everyone has left, and everything is closing,” Karyofylli said. “I am trying not to move around a lot and just stay in my dorm for the time being.” 

Karyofylli is from Greece, but she and her family decided that it was safer for her not to travel back home. She is staying in her dorm in Sayre Park Village, where she was a Gryphon before students left campus. 

With the uncertainty of the virus and travel restrictions, Karyofylli said she does not know what will happen in the near future. 

“I’m not going back home for a long time,” Karyofylli said. “I don’t even know when I am going to be able to go back.”

Karyofylli said she is fine with her decision to stay in the U.S. because she believes it is better for her and her family’s sake. One motivator behind her decision to stay included summer work opportunities. 

Karyofylli said she did not want to return home and then not be able to come back to the U.S. over the summer for an internship opportunity. 

This sentiment is felt by many international students, including Siddhant Bapat, ‘21. 

Bapat is from India but is remaining in Bethlehem in his off-campus residence. He viewed traveling home to India as the riskier option over staying on campus. 

Bapat said he didn’t want to potentially miss out on continuing his independent study over the summer with Justin Jaworski, an assistant professor in the engineering department, if he was limited by potential travel restrictions after returning home. 

Bapat said his living situation in Bethlehem is working out well for him. He said his only concerns is the inability to access resources that students normally would have access to. 

“With the closures, I do not have access to printers, scanners, softwares and other things that students usually have on a day-to-day basis,” said Bapat. “I know LUApps is a thing, but a lot of students do not have laptops that are capable of running heavy, demanding softwares. I am sure professors will be flexible, but things like that are a concern.” 

Both Bapat and Karyofylli said they appreciate the Lehigh administration for offering the credit system for academics this semester. 

Bapat said this option will be helpful for him and other students.

Social distancing is being practiced by many still on campus, including Bapat and Karyofylli. Bapat said he does not have any reasons to leave his house, besides grocery shopping. 

“Being scared to go to places is the worst part for me right now, but it is what it is,”  Karyofylli said.

Sarah Hancock, ‘22, is outspoken about how important social distancing is right now. She has Italian citizenship, and her parents are currently in Italy on lockdown. She said she does not know when she will be able to see them next. 

Hancock said she understands the severity of this situation based on her parents’ experiences in Italy. 

“I talk to my parents every single day over the phone,” said Hancock. “I feel pretty well-informed, and I understand what the timeline will probably be in the U.S. based on what my parents are experiencing.”

Hancock said she wants everyone to use their social media accounts to spread factual information about the virus and social distancing. 

She said it is everyone’s responsibility to inform each other of the situation.

Bapat said he is still adjusting to social distancing, but said he has come to appreciate it. 

“Coming into college, I was not very talkative. That has changed and I really like social interactions now,” Bapat said. “Social distancing was really annoying in the first two to three days. But slowly, I found it is an opportunity to stop and reflect.”

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