Yale Daily News

With Thanksgiving break — and the end of students’ time on campus for the fall semester — quickly approaching, most Yalies will say goodbye to New Haven for at least three months. But some students with faraway hometowns may be able to stick around.

In an Oct. 19 email sent by the Yale College Dean’s office and co-signed by Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun, Executive Director of the Office of International Students and Scholars Ann Kuhlman and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan, students were given the option of applying for on-campus housing during the period when campus residences will be closed — between Thanksgiving break and the start of spring semester on Feb. 1. According to the email, all international students, except Canadian students or U.S. citizens and permanent residents living abroad, will be approved for winter housing if they will face difficulties traveling home or arranging for alternate accommodation in the United States. The University will evaluate the applications on a case-by-case basis.

Five international students spoke to the News and weighed in on their decision to spend the winter at Yale and their plans for those two months of break. 

Student reactions

The email encouraged students to return home if they were able to do so. But for Iman Iftikhar ’23, who is a staff columnist for the News, returning to her home country of Pakistan is not an option. “There’s no way I’m going back,” she told the News in an interview.

For many international students, both the health risks and cost of travel during the pandemic are a significant cause for concern. 

Iftikhar cited surging coronavirus cases in Pakistan, a difference in time zones and the cost and feasibility of international travel during the pandemic as her primary reasons for wishing to remain on campus over the break. 

Thembi Gausi ’24 told the News that both she and her family were “uncomfortable” with traveling during the pandemic, noting that flights to her home country of Zimbabwe are especially long and require multiple layovers. 

Lukas Nel ’24 expressed similar reasoning for staying on campus during this time. 

“Going all the way back to South Africa and then coming back in the spring would be a bit of a hassle, and cost quite a bit of money,” Nel told the News.

Other students may not even have the option of returning to their home countries. Restrictions on travel and border controls in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have made international travel impossible for some.

For both Akeel Vitarana ’24 and Margot Lee ’24, travel restrictions imposed by their respective home countries, Sri Lanka and Australia, have forced them to stay in the United States over the two-month break.

Anxiety over application approval

Yale has yet to inform students whether their applications to stay on campus have been approved, and some are more worried than others. 

Lee, who is also a U.S. citizen, expressed concerns about her application to the News. “I’m nervous because if I don’t get winter housing I have nowhere else to stay,” Lee said. “So I’m not really sure what that would look like for me. I think my case is seen as less important because I’m not technically an international student.”

Iftikhar, who had to scramble to return to Pakistan when COVID-19 caused the university to shut on-campus residences last semester, cited Yale’s recent move to an orange alert level as a potential “source of concern.” According to her, the University’s shutdown in March does not bode well for students wishing to remain in residence over the break, especially if pandemic conditions worsen.

Although they are confident in being granted accommodations, both Nel and Gausi said that the administration could improve on their timing and communication.

In an interview with the News, Nel wished that Yale “would be more transparent as to when they are going to be answering back and sending decisions.”

Gausi echoed this sentiment, stating that there is a lot of “ambiguity and uncertainty” surrounding the current situation. Gausi noted that she can only make further plans after she finds out what her living situation will look like during that two-month period.  

What may happen over break

The Oct. 19 email also included details about life on campus during winter break. Students in residence during this period would be moved to Old Campus and lose access to their residential college and all other Yale facilities, including libraries, labs and gyms. According to the email, they would be required to continue following the Community Compact, which prohibits travel outside of Connecticut until the end of the semester. However, students are granted one trip out of state, scheduled in advance, with quarantine upon return back to campus, as long as students notify the University of their travel plans. Yale has not yet finalized its process to manage and approve these trips.

According to the email, however, it remains unclear whether dining halls will remain open after the semester ends on Dec. 18. 

For Vitarana, this is “one of the biggest concerns.” He said that if dining halls were closed, students would be left with little choice but to order takeout and eat at restaurants because students living on campus do not have access to kitchens to cook their own food.

Iftikhar, who has friends living off-campus in New Haven, plans to use their kitchen if “push comes to shove.”

A cold and lonely winter?

Some students are also concerned about the potential loneliness that staying in New Haven over the winter may bring. 

“It is a long time to be on campus when no one else is around, and I imagine it gets quite lonely here in the winter,” Lee told the News.

To preemptively combat this isolation, Lee and other students plan to take advantage of the one opportunity Yale has permitted them to travel.

Vitarana plans to visit his American friends across the U.S, while Lee is thinking of going to Florida to see her sister. Both will have to quarantine once they return to campus.

Although “it would have been nice to, in a normal year, spend some of the holidays with family and friends,” Lee said, students have been making the best of a tough situation.

Gausi plans to use the quiet time to find a job or an internship in New Haven, while Lee and Nel are both looking forward to some relaxation and getting to know the other students staying on campus over break.

Campus residences will be shut to all students, except for those who have successfully petitioned for winter housing exceptions, from Nov. 21 until Jan. 27. 

Vanika Mahesh | vanika.mahesh@yale.edu