Amid omicron surge, international students faced unpredictable holiday travel

Jan. 3, 2022, 8:15 p.m.

Sharon Cheng ’24 had envisioned a winter break where she would fly home to Taiwan, spend three weeks with her family and friends and travel back to campus — refreshed and prepared for winter quarter to start.

She never imagined having to take a computer science final holed up in a hotel room in Taiwan, with the hotel staff serving as her proctor, as she waited out a quarantine period that would last nearly two-thirds of her entire winter break. 

“It was messy, even if it all worked out in the end,” Cheng said. “This would not have had to happen if not for the pandemic.”

Amid a global surge in coronavirus cases due to the omicron variant, countries raced to enact border restrictions and new safety measures. As a result, international students traveling across borders during break have had to keep a careful eye on pandemic-related news in both the United States and their home country. This made the travel process all the more stressful and unpredictable for these students.

Cheng said that she was relieved when Stanford announced that classes would be held online for the first two weeks of winter quarter. Her flight back to the U.S. was originally scheduled for Jan. 2 because she was worried she would not be able to receive PCR test results within 24 hours on New Year’s Day, a national holiday in Taiwan.

“Now, I have much more flexibility and time to spend with my family and friends,” Cheng said.

However, not everyone was as fortunate as Cheng, who was able to reschedule her flight. 

Gheed El Bizri ’24, a Daily staffer, said she was disappointed that she had to rush through her visit home. If Stanford had announced its decision to move instruction online beforehand, she would have delayed her trip back to the United States to allow her more time back home in Lebanon with her loved ones.

Still, she was glad she enjoyed some time at home even with the anxiety of traveling during a pandemic. 

“There is no better feeling than being home with the people you love the most,” El Bizri said. “It’s definitely worth it.” 

Other students could not even travel home for the holidays. Oumnia Chellah ‘23 planned her flight home months ahead in October, but her plans derailed when Morocco closed down its borders to all incoming flights. Suddenly stuck in the United States during break, she had to scramble to find accommodations. 

“I love to spend time with my family, but this time there was no way for me to go home,” Chellah said. “I had to ask my friends if they would have me over at the last minute.”

The international students interviewed said they have learned that plans can quickly shift without warning amid the pandemic.

“It’s like you have to live in uncertainty,” El Bizri said. “You have to be ready for a change of plans at any moment.”

Sophia Li is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Winter Journalism Workshop.

Login or create an account