International Students Head Home in Light of Lockdown

International students want to leave Shanghai because of Vice-Chancellor Lehman's announcement that classes will be taught remotely for the remainder of the semester.

(Photo Credits: Maya Spaulding)

NYU Shanghai students have been taking remote classes for at least a month, wondering when and if they will be able to return to the academic building. Students were hoping to go back to campus and finish their term in person. However, after Vice-Chancellor Lehman notified students that classes would be taught remotely for the remainder of the semester, many international students came to the same conclusion: “We need to get out of Shanghai.”

“Originally, I was planning on leaving in May after finals end, but this has definitely made me want to leave as soon as possible,” said Irene Katakis, a sophomore. “I feel like since all our classes are going to be online, and it’s unknown how long we’ll be [locked down], there’s not a huge point to staying since it’s not like I’m getting to experience China or my classes.” 

Sophomores, in particular, who plan to study away can leave Shanghai without worrying about not being able to study in person during fall semester. One of the big reasons to stay in Shanghai is to not worry about the extensive travel process to return to China.

Mia Trinh, a sophomore planning on studying away in the fall, said, “I’m not required to stay in China…that’s why I am planning to go home and finish the semester online.”

She further explained that her home country, Vietnam, has a suitable time zone for online classes, a pull factor to return home.

Another factor is the amount of time international students have been in Shanghai. Mia and Irene both have been in Shanghai for over a year and a half. Meaning, they have not been able to visit their home country and family at all. They both said this had affected their decisions to try to go home early. 

Many upperclassmen are in the same situation. If an international student returned to their home country, it is highly unlikely they would be able to come back to Shanghai. Thus, many internationals currently in Shanghai who arrived in late 2020 and early 2021 have not left Shanghai as of 2022.

When Vice-Chancellor Lehman made the statement about remote classes on April 3, 2022, consulates had not released any official statement about citizen evacuation. However, as the lockdowns continued, they started issuing information and holding meetings regarding citizen evacuation.

According to the U.S. Consulate General Shanghai: “On April 11, 2022, the U.S. Department of State ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and all family members from the Consulate General Shanghai consular district due to a surge in COVID-19 cases and the impact of restrictions related to the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) response.”

In addition, the United States China Travel Advisory published the following message: “Do not travel to the PRC’s Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), Jilin province, and Shanghai municipality due to COVID-19-related restrictions, including the risk of parents and children being separated.”

Despite many international students wanting to leave early, other internationals are not going immediately. 

“If I do end up leaving that means I would need to do remote classes from home. That might probably get old pretty quick, considering the time difference,” said Charles Brashear, a freshman.

As NYU Shanghai has an international student body, not all internationals have compatible time zones with their current class schedule, which is one reason for them to remain in Shanghai.

Still, many internationals started expressing their interest in leaving Shanghai through social media. Mia saw multiple students wanting to leave Shanghai in big class WeChat groups, so she created a special WeChat group for them. 

“I created the group chat so that students wanting to leave can share their resources, such as private driver contacts, success stories, flight searches, or in general organize a group to leave together if they are going to the same country or city,” she said.  

As days passed, the group soon became what Mia hoped for. Students learned from each other and passed on valuable contact cards and tips which the school could not. With over 70 members, students had a higher chance of getting a quick response in the group compared to email.

Initially, the group was created almost immediately after Vice-Chancellor Lehman’s announcement, and no one had successfully left Shanghai. So, the first few hours of messaging discussed if they could even leave and what support could the school provide.

The university realized that enough students wanted to leave Shanghai, so it started communicating with those  who were interested. Carly Siuta, a senior specialist in the Student Health Center, became the main point of contact for those students.

Students learned that the process of leaving was quite complex and evolved every day. However, the university provided a “leaving Shanghai” guide, which informed students of the necessary steps and documents to prepare.

According to a university email, the first step is to book a commercial flight before the semester ends. The university’s immediate priority is students trying to leave now, not those leaving in late May.

After booking a flight, students were instructed to reach out to Carly and Nupur Goyal, Director of Residential Life & University Community Standards, who set up a meeting. Carly and Nupur then helped students make sure they were preparing everything correctly.

According to the university and multiple consulates, in order to leave the residential compound and go to the airport or Covid testing site, students must have an exit permit. For students in Jinyang and Jinqiao, Nupur is able to help them. An exit permit must show that the student has a clear and legitimate plan of getting to the airport once they leave their residence. This includes proof of booking private transportation and arranging a Covid test.

With all these steps, there are still additional risks. The biggest that has been made clear to all students interested in leaving is that once they leave their residence, they cannot come back. Therefore, if something goes wrong at the airport, a student cannot immediately return to their compound. And the school has very limited resources to help them at that point.

However, despite the long process and risks, students are still willing to proceed in order to leave Shanghai.

For Caleb Dawson, a sophomore who left Shanghai, the unknown of staying in the city was not worth it. “We must remember that what was supposed to be no lockdown, became a four or five-day lockdown, and has now turned into a multi-week lockdown,” he said.

To most students, getting the exit permit approved is the difficult part of the process.

“I couldn’t be happier that I got approval to leave Jinqiao and go to my flight. Residential Life has been as helpful as I think they could have been in this situation, and for that I am grateful,” Caleb said. 

With his and other student success stories as well as the constantly evolving situation, more and more international students are trying or considering leaving Shanghai early.

(Update: As of April 20th, all people entering the airport must have a PCR test taken within 48 hours of entering the airport.)

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