Talat Aman ’23 was vacationing in Barcelona when President Donald Trump announced travel restrictions for much of Europe. Aman, bombarded by phone calls and texts from worried friends and family, immediately cut his vacation short and rebooked his ticket for last Friday, three days before he intended to return home.
“Ticket prices kept doubling,” Aman said. “In that moment it was pretty hard to not freak out because it seemed so surreal.”
Aman is one of many Yale students whose Spring Break travel went awry last week when the U.S. government announced it would institute a 30-day ban for travelers from much of Europe. The government ban excluded U.S. citizens, but the initial news left some Yalies scrambling to return to the States before the ban went into effect.
The restrictions began at midnight on Friday and apply to the Schengen Area of Europe — 26 countries including Spain, France and Germany that do not restrict movement between their borders. On Saturday, the United States expanded the ban to include the United Kingdom and Ireland, effective Monday. U.S. citizens who travelled to this region will be diverted to specific airports and asked to self-quarantine for two weeks, Vice President Mike Pence said in a television appearance.
“This is an extraordinary moment, and it calls on all of us to support each other with great care,” Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun wrote in a Tuesday email to students.
In his email, Chun wrote that students currently abroad may not return to campus and offered to pay for the travel costs for students on financial aid to return home.
James Leung ’23, who was in Barcelona with Aman, recalled “freaking out” after receiving a series of messages from friends relaying the news of Trump’s travel ban. Leung considered going to the consulate to clarify details of the ban, but it was closed at the time.
“It definitely was an economic strain,” Leung said about the ticket prices, adding that they were “exorbitantly high.” Leung said his parents “were willing to take that hit” to ensure he got home safely given the limited details available about Trump’s travel ban.
Yale’s online recommendations advise European students to contact the Office of International Students and Scholars for assistance in navigating travel amidst Trump’s ban. The online information also states that the University will offer support to students who receive financial aid.
Audrey Steinkamp ’22, who was a staff reporter for the News, was in Madrid when Trump announced the ban. Rushing to get home, she paid $925 for a plane ticket from Madrid to New York City.
According to Steinkamp, the University denied her preliminary requests to reimburse her ticket. After emailing with the Pauli Murray College head, dean and office staff, however, the University has said it will reimburse her for the ticket cost.
“Yale has been really hard to work with in my specific situation,” she said.
Dean Chun did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Still, the University did compensate other students in the midst of rapidly changing travel plans. Sammy Landino ’21, who worked with a Yale travel agent to help him fly from London to JFK Airport on Sunday after spending a week in Paris. He came back to the United States a week earlier than he had originally planned.
Upon returning home, many Yalies said customs agents did not provide specific instructions about how best to protect against the virus’s spread.
Still, both Aman and Steinkamp respectively said they will voluntarily isolate for 14 days.
Landino returned to the U.S. after the travel ban went into effect, so he witnessed the new protocols in action. After landing, passengers remained on the plane while New York public health officials boarded the aircraft and conducted a preliminary inspection. In the airport, officials took travelers’ temperatures and asked them a series of questions.
“At this point, I’m just going to be practicing a lot of that good-old social distancing and I’ll just be home,” Landino said. “This is life I guess.”
Other students like Antonio Cilibrizzi ’23 opted to stay on Yale’s campus during Spring Break to avoid returning home to Italy — a country the CDC has classified as at a Level 3 risk for the coronavirus. When Spring Break began, he felt lonely watching his friends go home and embark on vacations, all while he remained in New Haven. Now, he is preparing for many more weeks of solitude, as he is one of the few Yale students allowed to remain on campus for spring break and the rest of the semester.
“It feels extremely lonely to be on campus during this time,” he said.
Cilibrizzi can access his dorm room and carry-out dining hall options, but will not be able to gain entry to common spaces in his residential college and may lose access to Payne Whitney Gym.
Cilibrizzi said that once the situation improves in Italy, he ultimately intends to return home. For now, he plans to spend the rest of the semester on campus.
“I have full access to healthcare facilities there and I don’t even know what would happen if I got the virus here, if I would even be able to go to intensive care,” he said. “This is how upsetting the situation is.”
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease first diagnosed in December.
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