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The University of Arkansas transitioned Holcombe Hall into housing for students that tested positive for COVID-19.

UA international students face tough choices about whether to travel home – and increase their risks of catching and spreading COVID-19 – or spend the holidays away from their families.

The pandemic has impacted many international students’ abilities to travel freely between their countries and the United States. Most countries have limited international travel and/or instituted new protocols such as mandatory testing and quarantine.

Payel Acharya, a second-year graduate student from Kolkata, India, said she thinks being surrounded by family for the holidays would be worth the risk of contracting COVID-19. She hopes to be able to travel home, but is waiting for some immigration documents to be approved before she can go. She is unsure if these will be ready in time for the holidays.

Acharya has not been home to see her family since the death of her husband in April, so having their support during this time would mean a lot to her, she said.

“If I had one wish right now it would be to travel home and be with my family,” Acharya said. “They are all the support that I need.”

If Acharya does travel to India for the holidays, she will have to be tested for COVID-19 before boarding her flight or upon landing at the airport in New Delhi. She will be allowed to travel home to Kolkata upon receiving a negative test result.

Alternatively, Acharaya could choose not to get tested, but she would be required to quarantine for seven days in New Delhi before being permitted to travel home to continue quarantining.

International students have had to worry about these additional protocols on top of preparing their immigration documents for travel.

The UA International Students and Scholars staff has been working to help students understand the altered regulations in their countries, such as quarantine and testing requirements, said Audra Johnston, associate director of UA International Students and Scholars, in an email.

“Our office is helping students prepare as best they can if they will be traveling, by signing their immigration documents for travel and advising them regarding what they should carry with them,” Johnston said.

The staff has also encouraged students to consider the risks involved in traveling during this time, Johnston said.

Acharya plans to carry masks and hand sanitizer with her in order to stay as safe as she possibly can while traveling, she said.

Other students have chosen to remain in Fayetteville over the break and avoid traveling altogether.

Rian Djita, a first-semester graduate student from Kupang, Indonesia, said he thinks going home for the holidays is not worth the risk of exposing himself or his family to the virus.

“When the pandemic hit, I lived in New York, and it was such a terrible moment for me,” Djita said. “Every single day, all I would hear was ambulances. Having to think about traveling to another place and possibly being exposed makes me really afraid.”

Christmas is one of the biggest celebrations of the year for Djita’s family, he said. He is sad that he will not be able to gather with his loved ones, but he is confident that staying in Fayetteville is the best option.

Djita plans on using Zoom to connect with his family on Christmas Day, he said.. He also plans to participate in a few of his family’s traditions from afar, such as attending church and cooking some of his country’s signature dishes.

“Growing up in a close-knitted community in Kupang, Indonesia, I was always reminded about the love and togetherness that we shared during the holidays,” Djita said. “Due to the pandemic, this might not be something that I can enjoy, but I am thankful that God in His own way always knows what we need.”

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