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International students face travel difficulties because of COVID-19

Keila Cueto said her theme verse for quarantine was Joshua 1:9. Photo: Andrew Pledger

Over Christmas break of 2020, many international students faced difficulties returning home or had concerns about travel constraints preventing them from coming back to BJU, leading 23 international students to stay on campus over Christmas break.

Dawei Cai works at Bob Jones Academy. Photo: Andrew Pledger

Dawei Cai, a sophomore kinesiology major from Saipan, said he did not return to the islands because of the fees and difficulty of buying a ticket. He also considered the health concerns of traveling for two to three days. Cai stayed on campus while he worked his usual job at Bob Jones Academy. For the two or three weeks that the University shut down, he lived with his pastor. Cai has not seen his parents since December 2019 because of the closing of the borders and uncertainty about returning.

“Home is around 7000 miles away and a 14- or 15-hour time difference,” Cai said. He assured his family he was wearing a mask and social distancing. “I wanted to…just do my best to not let my parents worry.”

Kaiping Wang stayed on campus over break. Photo: Andrew Pledger

Kaiping Wang, a sophomore mechanical engineering major from China, said the possibility that he would not be able to return to school was a risk. “It was really hard to go back to China at the time and is harder now because of [travel] policies,” Wang said.

Many international students had already navigated the difficulties of travel due to COVID-19. When BJU classes went virtual last March, many countries around the world had closed their borders—a situation that left some international students stranded on campus until classes started again last fall. During the summer of 2020, 30 international students stayed in the campus dorms while working for the University in jobs such as landscaping or working at the BJU Press. “I thought [school] would shut down, but not that early,” Wang said. “I was very surprised.” Wang bought a ticket to return home, but two weeks before the flight, it was canceled. After trying multiple times to book a new flight, Wang had a realization. “God said, ‘I don’t want you to go back. I have a better plan for you,’” Wang said.

Keila Cueto said her theme verse for quarantine was Joshua 1:9. Photo: Andrew Pledger

Keila Cueto, a sophomore health science major from Lima, Peru, said she and many international students had to immediately go to the Student Development and Discipleship office after BJU president Dr. Steve Pettit’s announcement about campus closing. “Many international students [were] going there like super-fast,” Cueto said. “Some people were even running.”

Cueto said the CGO was pairing students up with professors who were able to open their homes to students. She and her friend were placed with the Beadle family. Cueto and the Beadles attended the same church but had never met until the circumstances joined them together. Cueto returned home July 23, 2020, on a humanitarian flight after receiving a one-day notice from the Peruvian embassy in Atlanta, Georgia.

Cueto said she was also able to go home for Christmas break when her country opened up. Right before school started, she bought her ticket and returned to the U.S. Following her departure, the country shut down again.

“I can clearly see God had everything under control and arranged the circumstances for me to come [back to school],” Cueto said.