COVID-19 travel bans threaten international student exchange programs

Lora Luquet 

Arts and Living Editor 

In March it was announced that the U.S. would be implementing travel restrictions in order to prevent non-essential travel to stop the spread of coronavirus.  According to Homeland Security, this travel ban was supposed to last thirty days, but it is ongoing for the foreseeable future. 

While restrictions on international travel are necessary to lower the impact of COVID-19, a group of students at Northwestern State University have been uniquely impacted. 

International students’ plans to return home or take advantage of study abroad opportunities have come to a halt. 

Aura Hernandez, a graduate student in music performance, was planning to return to Colombia in June, but could not travel due to the restrictions. 

“We were afraid to go home and then not be able to come back because of the new rules,” Hernandez said. “But a good thing was we felt the support of the NSU administration, like the president, and Dr. Handel, all of them were constantly sending us emails to keep us informed about everything, and they were trying to help us as much as they could.” 

Louisiana shifting to Phase 3 of COVID-19 restrictions allowed slightly larger social gatherings.  As businesses and sporting events have begun opening at fuller capacities, Hernandez hopes to return to Colombia in December for the Christmas holiday. 

The International Student Resource Center is international students’ main point of contact to other services the university provides. 

Telba Espinoza-Contreras, director of the International Student Resource Center, helps students through the process of applying to NSU by guiding students in choosing classes, visa applications and other paperwork. Espinoza-Contreras noted that regulations are changing as time goes on. 

“In March, many of the borders closed, so they couldn’t go home, or they had to go before the borders were closed so some students tried to go, and the borders closed just when they were getting ready to leave,” Espinoza-Contreras said. “But now they’re opening it a little more with some protocols in place.” 

As for the study abroad program, which allows NSU students to study at universities in foreign countries, such as China, Mexico and France, the department is trying to implement innovative ways to allow students to study abroad from the safety of their own homes. 

“We’re exploring virtual opportunities,” Espinoza-Contreras said. “It’s not the same as traveling and going to the other countries or universities and being there in person, but we’re trying to see what can be offered virtually for study abroad.” 

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