Tufts students abroad struggle to get home as world’s borders close

Marrakesh Menara Airport, in Marrakesh, Morocco, is pictured. Wikimedia Commons

Disclaimer: Jessica Blough is a former editor-in-chief at the Daily. She was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.

At least five Tufts students participating in School for International Training (SIT) and Butler University’s Institute for Study Abroad (IFSA) study abroad programs are stuck in their host countries as governments ground flights and close borders due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Juniors Jessica Blough, Alex Lein and Aviva Rosenberg are currently in various locations in Morocco. Paula Gil-Ordoñez Gomez and a fifth student, both juniors, are in Peru.

The Kingdom of Morocco suspended all international flights and cut the ferry link to Spain on Sunday. The same day, the Peruvian government closed its borders for 15 days, suspended all international flights and restricted internal movement.

Morocco has reported 44 cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday. Peru has reported 117 cases.

Mala Ghosh, Tufts’ senior director of study abroad and global education, wrote in an email to the Daily that the university is working with both SIT and the four students to secure spots for them on the next available flights.

Ghosh sent an email to all students who participated in external study abroad programs this semester, requesting they complete a survey to inform the university of their whereabouts by March 20.

Blough and Rosenberg are currently staying in the Texuda Hotel in Rabat, where they participated in a SIT journalism and new media program. They are tentatively scheduled to fly to London Heathrow International Airport on Thursday, after the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism announced it was allowing 100 flights to the United Kingdom to evacuate foreign nationals.

Lein, who participated in a separate SIT program, is staying at the Hotel Diwan in Casablanca. He plans to fly tomorrow from Marrakesh to John F. Kennedy International Airport via Doha, Qatar but said it is likely the flight will be canceled.

The other Tufts student in Peru remains with his host family while SIT secures permission for domestic travel from the government, according to internal emails from Tufts Global Education.

Lein told the Daily on Tuesday he is confident that he and the rest of his program will make it back to the United States.

“Personally, I’m not worried as far as getting home goes. I think it’s just a matter of when and how,” he said. “I know that we’re safe here, for the most part. We’re in good company, and we’re going to get through this as a group.”

Kate Casa, a SIT spokeswomanwrote in an email to the Daily that the organization suspended all of its onsite operations on Sunday and is working “around the clock” to get the students home.

The organization is in contact with embassies and Moroccan authorities about the situation and has a team in Washington, D.C. coordinating flightsCasa said.

Students who studied with SIT programs this semester will have access to online coursework as soon as next week, according to Casa.

Lein and a number of other students in his SIT program were tested for COVID-19 in a hospital in the Moroccan capital on Sunday. All of the tests came back negative.

Gil-Ordoñez Gomez, who took part in the IFSA Butler program in Lima, Peru, said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that she is staying with her host family for the duration of the 15-day lockdown but booked a return flight for the earliest available date.

“I’m hopeful, but I’m not quite confident because everything seems pretty volatile right now,” Gil-Ordoñez Gomez wrote in an electronic message to the Daily. “They only gave us one day to try to get out of the country, so I’m not sure what comes next.”

She and the other students in the program plan to push the U.S. Embassy in Peru to take action, especially if the travel restrictions are extended.

The other Tufts student in Peru, who was in an SIT program, remains with his host family while SIT secures permission from the government to transport the students to a central location within the country, according to internal emails from Tufts Global Education.

This article was updated on Tuesday evening to reflect new information about one of the students in Peru.

Robert Kaplan and Caleb Symons contributed reporting to this article.


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