International students required to return to home countries

Graphic by Joshua Doering.


Coronavirus has unexpectedly sent the Butler community across state, national and continental borders. In the week of March 11 through March 17, Butler students swallowed the realities of completing a semester with, for many, a sense of incompletion — online learning, closed housing, shortened athletic seasons and a number of canceled events. 

On March 14, Butler sent an email announcing the closure of campus and all residential housing until at least April 4. International students received another email from Butler on the same day, requiring them to return to their home countries if possible, regardless of whether they lived on campus or not. 

“We are requiring all international students to return home, if you can,” the email stated. “I know this is difficult for all of us and especially for you. If extenuating circumstances prevent you from returning, Residence Life will have a process soon for you to indicate these circumstances for approval to temporarily stay.”

According to Butler’s fact book, there are 74 international students enrolled as of fall 2019. Now, they have to prematurely pack up and head back to their home countries — some of which are more affected by the virus than others. 

Adriana Ruiz García is a music performance student currently completing her final year in Butler’s music master’s program. Although she lives off-campus, García had no choice but to return to her home country of Spain, where there are almost 40,000 active cases of coronavirus as of March 24.

“I was following the news in Spain at the same time I got that email from Butler that was like, ‘you can’t stay here,’ while my people at home are like, ‘now might not be the best time to come home,’ but I am going anyway,” García said. “I was traveling for spring break last week, so I have to assess the risk of whether I should go back home with all my family or if I should be by myself.”

Renee Cure is a junior accounting major from New Zealand. While less than 200 coronavirus cases have been reported in the country, the government passed an order banning non-residents from entry that went into effect on March 20. 

“I was planning to go to one of my friend’s houses in St. Louis until I knew more,” Cure said.  “My Prime Minister back home basically put actions into place and my parents were like, ‘no you’re going to come home soon,’ and my home university actually said that all international students have to go home. When I get home I have to be in self-isolation for two weeks.”

Laeticia Boissard is a junior international business major from Martinique. Unlike García and Cure, she is unable to return home. Boissard is currently residing in Butler Terrace. 

“I’m from a French state in the Caribbean, which makes things harder because we have the same restrictions as France, but since our island has specific conditions — for example the population is older and we have less hospital room and less medical equipment than France — so the situation is really really delicate,” Boissard said. “The local organization asked us to not come back at all.”

The nature of the coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented in terms of the public’s reaction. Fueling the situation are contradictory reports, misinformation and viral hoaxes — all leading to even more mass confusion. This uncertainty only heightened the stress felt by international students, as they scrambled to figure out if they could resume their classes online and receive credit, all on top of finding a way home.

“For me, being a music student, one of the biggest issues has been while Butler was telling me to go home and leave the country, from the music faculty what I was hearing was a different message,” García said. “On the one hand they [Butler] were trying to kick all of the internationals out, while on the other hand, professors were saying, ‘you have to be here.’ So I just think that communication within the university has not been great, but it’s eventually coming together.”

Boissard experienced a similar feeling, as though the university was taking strict measures to remove internationals from campus. 

“It was pretty stressful because we didn’t have any answers during the whole weekend, even yesterday, and when I got the mail yesterday I was feeling like they [Butler] were just trying to get rid of us to not be responsible of us,” Boissard said. “But they were the ones enforcing us to live on campus so I felt like they were completely responsible in that situation.” 

International students also face the logistical, and possibly financial, struggle of quickly obtaining flights as airlines continue to make cancelations and borders close with each passing day. With the inevitable mass exposure to other travelers, the students also risk higher chances of contracting the virus and carrying it back to their families, as opposed to being able to stay put and practice social distancing.

Boissard cannot go home without putting her grandmother at serious risk of contracting the virus. 

“If I wanted to go there [home], I have to fly to Canada and through like three or four different airports just to go back home,” Boissard said. “And airports right now are probably the place with the highest chance possible to get the virus, and at home I’m living with my grandma. It’s also $2,000 for flights, and I checked this morning and all flights are canceled.” 

As Butler students continue to express their disappointment in the semester’s abrupt conclusion, international students have had time to reflect on the short time they experienced in Indianapolis. 

“Everything is empty, no one is really moving — the whole campus is closed,” Boissard said. “I am probably going to be one of the only ones to live here for the next two weeks. The weirdest part was to see my roommates come back just to take their stuff and leave because they know they aren’t going to be here for awhile.” 

Shuffling to move two years of her life back to Spain, García believes the lackluster university response is similar to the overall treatment of internationals. 

“This university doesn’t really pay a lot of attention to international students and that’s kind of sad,” García said. “And also, I don’t think they realize that most of us don’t have a car and can’t get most of our things, and we rely heavily on friends and diversity ambassadors here who are just volunteering to help us, but also are putting themselves at risk. When all of us should be self-isolating, there’s people who are still going to drive me to the airport, and I’m like, ‘I don’t want you to do this, but I need this.’”


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