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Students reconsider travel, internships amid coronavirus

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JB Lim ’22, was originally going to spend spring break at home in Seoul. He scheduled his flight and made plans to meet his friends, who now serve in the South Korean military. But Lim canceled his visit after hearing about the ballooning COVID-19 epidemic in South Korea, followed by subsequent recommendations against travel to the country, as issued by the U.S. government and Stanford.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued “do not travel” warnings for China and Iran, and “avoid nonessential travel” warnings for South Korea and Italy. 

Lim is one of many Stanford students affected by the virus’ spread, which has resulted in policies like travel restrictions and program cancellations. Another student reported being mocked for potentially contracting the virus, an incident he identified as xenophobic.

The coronavirus epidemic has exceeded 90,000 cases, with more than 3,000 recorded deaths. Mainland China has been most affected, followed by South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan, according to The New York Times.

Students cancel travel home

On Tuesday, Vaden Health Center extended its travel and self-isolation recommendations to South Korea. They had already been applied to China, Italy and Iran. Vaden has also recommended against travel to Hong Kong, Macau and Japan, as these countries could potentially be subject to self-isolation recommendations in the future.

“The COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving,” reads a University announcement. “We encourage members of the Stanford community to strongly consider deferring non-essential international travel during spring break and in the months ahead.”

Lim wrote that he made the decision to cancel his plans out of concern over having to self-isolate, which could make the start of spring quarter difficult. 

“I was hopeful about going back, but with the recent burst in infection rates, I decided to stay back on campus,” Lim wrote in a statement to The Daily. He also considered the possibility of being denied re-entry into the United States.

Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda did not respond to questions about how the University would respond if travel restrictions were imposed that prevented students from returning to campus after spring break or other travel.

Lim also expressed concern for the safety of his family members in South Korea, including his 83-year-old grandmother. As a precaution, they have not left their house in the past week, according to Lim.

His roommate Andrew Lee ’22 has also decided to stay at Stanford instead of going back to his home in South Korea. Lee said he canceled his flight because he was unsure whether he would be able to re-enter the United States if the outbreak worsened. 

Miranda did not respond to questions about how the University plans to address the potential increase in students staying on campus during spring break.

Jack Yuan ’23, who lived in Guangzhou, China, for eight years, visited the country for Chinese New Year near the start of the outbreak but returned to the U.S. shortly before travel restrictions were implemented.

“I came back two days early,” Yuan said. “My sister got back a week later than I did. If her flight had gotten delayed for, let’s say, five hours, she wouldn’t have gotten back into the United States.”

Yuan said he was disappointed that international travel restrictions and Stanford’s self-quarantine instruction prevented his family from coming to the University’s Family Weekend.

“My dad travels a lot,” Yuan said. “He doesn’t always have time to spend with my sister, me and my mom. This would have been one of the few times in the year where the four of us could be together.”

Yuan said he did not know how he would have handled self-quarantine had he not returned before self-isolation began to be instructed.

“If I had self-isolated, I would have had to do it with my roommate,” Yuan said. “What difference would it have made? You live in a dorm. There’s no way to really self-isolate yourself.”

Miranda did not respond to questions about how the University was implementing the self-isolation request or if the University was providing accommodations and resources to students who need to self-isolate.

University cuts study abroad, internships

Travel restrictions have also begun to bite into students’ academic pursuits. 

Da Hyang “Summer” Jung, a second-year Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering, canceled her plan to travel to Seoul during spring break to collect data for her research on convenience stores in East Asia.

“I am thinking of visiting Korea during the summer if the outbreak blows over,” Jung wrote in a statement to The Daily. “For now, the plan is postponed without date.”

Some students have also experienced disruptions to their summer internships. The Stanford Global Studies (SGS) decided to cancel its programs in China and South Korea. Federal regulations prohibit University funds or resources from be used to support travel to locations with Level 3 and 4 travel warnings, which may impact students who have secured or had hoped to secure University internships or stipends to travel to or work in affected areas. 

Haley Gordon, an East Asian Studies master’s student, said she was planning to apply for funding from the Stanford Global Studies for her self-arranged summer internship in South Korea. Now, she is looking to external sources for financial support. 

“I understand the school has to be really careful but [SGS’s decision to cancel its programs] does seem to be a little bit premature,” Gordon said. She said she hopes the situation in South Korea improves by the summer, but she said she would not rule out domestic internship opportunities in the U.S.

The Bing Overseas Study Program (BOSP) is also considering cancelling spring study abroad programs over coronavirus, following its decision to suspend the winter quarter program in Florence, Italy.

‘I have so much more on the line’

In addition to not seeing his family over Family Weekend, Yuan said he had experienced xenophobia on campus as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. On his 11th day back from China, Yuan said, he caught a runny nose and a cough from his roommate. 

“I was in the bathroom, and I was coughing a bit, and then somebody walked in, took a look at me and then ran out,” Yuan said. “As I leave the bathroom, I see him running down the hallway. He started talking to his friend and said that ‘I think Jack has coronavirus, he’s been coughing really hard.’”

Students quickly spread the rumor, Yuan said.

“Immediately, both of them went into a room full of people and started talking about how I had coronavirus and everything,” Yuan said. “He did not care about my feelings and just started telling shit about me. And I have so much more on the line than they do because my entire family is in China — my parents, sister, my whole extended family and my 89-year old grandpa.”

As the tension over the epidemic escalates, students at colleges across the nation have reported xenophobic incidents, with administrations at universities like UC Berkeley and Syracuse sending out campus-wide emails on the subject. The Graduate Student Council also discussed potential xenophobic incidents on campus in early February.

Miranda did not respond to questions about whether the University is taking measures to address or prevent xenophobic incidents related to coronavirus on campus.

Quotes from Da Hyang “Summer” Jung were given in Korean and were translated into English. Some were lightly edited in translation.

Contact Won-Gi Jung at jwongi ‘at’ stanford.edu and Kate Selig at kselig ‘at’ stanford.edu.