Not every international student at Purdue University Fort Wayne plans to travel home during the three-week winter break, but those who do might carry unwanted baggage with them – worries about a smooth return to campus.
The omicron variant of the coronavirus has complicated travel to the United States, which requires that all air passengers show a negative COVID-19 test taken within a day before traveling to the country.
This could add to the complexity of travel for international students, particularly those visiting areas with limited testing availability, said Brian Mylrea, director of international education at Purdue Fort Wayne.
“It can be difficult,” he said just days after the rule took effect Dec. 6.
But Mylrea and other college officials said some international students studying in northeast Indiana are ready to take that risk rather than cancel trips planned before the United States designated omicron as a variant of concern on Nov. 30.
“We still have a fair number of students who will try to go home during the winter break,” Mylrea said. “It's obvious they'd want to go home.”
Some international students haven't returned home in more than a year because of previous travel restrictions, said Sharmila Chowdhury, director of international admissions at Indiana Tech.
“They want to see their parents,” she said.
Neither university official knew the exact number of international students traveling abroad over the break. Mylrea said they are in the minority among the 275 international students at Purdue Fort Wayne. At Indiana Tech, Chowdhury said, the majority of undergraduates plan to return home over the holidays; the university has about 200 international students, including graduate students.
Both universities have advised international students about the United States' vaccination requirements for air travelers, officials said.
Trine University in Angola has about 45 undergraduate international students, and travel costs can discourage them from going home for winter break, said Mari McHenry, director of international community services.
“It's just such a high cost for two or three weeks,” she said, noting summer break is a more popular time for homecomings.
That doesn't necessarily mean international students don't go anywhere during winter break. Some might travel within the United States, possibly visiting friends or relatives, McHenry said.
“They're wanting to be connected, that's for sure,” she said.
The situation is similar at the University of Saint Francis, which has about 40 international students at its Fort Wayne campus representing 16 countries, said Katie Dwyer, associate dean of students.
“We in Residential Life are not aware of any students whose travel plans have been affected by the omicron variant,” Dwyer said by email. “Several of our international students will be spending winter break with family or friends in the U.S.”
Meanwhile, Mylrea said, Purdue Fort Wayne has planned for the worst-case scenario – a student's delayed return because of a positive COVID-19 test. This could also include newly admitted international students joining the university for the spring semester, he said.
In that situation, the university would work closely with students about the possibility of starting spring semester in an online format, he said, and other options include deferring attendance to the fall.
Whatever happens over break, Mylrea said international students don't have to navigate challenges alone.
“We're constantly in communication,” he said.