Exchange students studying at Tufts this semester will not be allowed to remain in the United States, effective March 20, as part of the university’s response to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Students studying at Tufts through the Global Education exchange program received an email Saturday afternoon from Senior Director of Tufts Global Education Mala Ghosh and International Center Director Andrew Shiotani informing them of the university’s decision.
“[We] have determined, given worsening conditions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, that it is in the interest of both the students themselves and Tufts to arrange for their return to their home countries and home universities,” Tufts Executive Director of Media Relations Patrick Collins wrote in an email to the Daily.
Tufts typically hosts 15–20 students through the Global Education program each year, according to Collins.
Exchange students are expected to leave their residence hall by March 16 and must depart the country by March 20 or risk violating the terms of their J-1 visa. Other university affiliates with J-1 visas, including postdoctoral researchers and visiting professors, will not be affected by Tufts’ suspension of the Global Education program.
“While the J1 visa program as a whole remains intact, we have had to make difficult choices about ending the study abroad experiences for this small group of students,” Collins said.
Collins added that Tufts will make an effort to support exchange students returning to their home countries, including by offering them financial resources. Exchange students can also continue taking their Tufts courses once the university transitions to online learning on March 25.
However, when University President Anthony Monaco initially announced that in-person classes would be suspended, he stated that the visa status of international students would not be affected.
For the students in Tufts’ Global Education program, Saturday’s announcement marked an abrupt end to their time in the United States. Many had planned to explore the country during spring break and after the semester ended. Now, they are heading home.
“I felt kind of left behind, but at least I have financial support,” Carlos Aroca Fernandez, an exchange student from Spain, said. “I went to [the] FIRST Resource Center, and they booked me a ticket [to Spain].”
Aroca Fernandez, who lived in the Spanish House this semester, petitioned Tufts for an extension of his on-campus housing. Aroca Fernandez appealed that since he may have already been exposed to the virus and would be forced to live with his grandfather, who is more than 90 years old, and his mother, who has a weak immune system, it would be too dangerous to return to Madrid.
Tufts rejected his application because he has not displayed any symptoms of COVID-19.
Aroca Fernandez then planned to move off campus before learning on Saturday that Tufts discontinued the Global Education program. But Aroca Fernandez, who will fly home Sunday night, sees a potential silver lining in this decision.
“I think, at the end of the day, I’m going to be grateful for Tufts’ [having canceled] the program because I’m going to be in a place in which the public health system is so good that I’m going to be tested,” Aroca Fernandez said. “Maybe I’ll get tested because … I came from Boston, and I’ve been exposed. Here, you have to present the symptoms and pay like $3,000.”
Aroca Fernandez was set to attend a Model United Nations conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York later this semester, but the conference was canceled in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Despite the disappointment of leaving early, he will look back fondly on his time at Tufts and plans to stay in touch with many students.
“This has been so important in my life — my first time outside my country, living on my own with other people,” Aroca Fernandez said. “I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to live the Tufts experience until the spring. [Since] Tuesday, everything has been saying goodbye to different people. It’s emotionally exhausting.”
Austin Clementi contributed reporting to this article.