Quarantined students start the year from a distance

Carly Davis

Article by Carly Davis.
Instead of starting their freshman year with a busy move-in day and hectic week of bonding with peers, 11 students began the fall semester in quarantine after traveling internationally. 2 quarantined in TLA’s on-campus, and 9 others quarantined at a Holiday Inn in downtown Rock Island.
At the Holiday, students had online orientation sessions, met with Global Ambassadors, and started classes completely virtually. While the CDC had relaxed its guidelines surrounding quarantine after international travel, students at the Holiday Inn were still prohibited from participating in activities as they usually would.
“A couple weeks before the school started, we had to change everything because the CDC guidelines wanted all those international travelers to quarantine in the United States,” Xong Sony Yang, director of the office of international student and scholar services said. “That completely threw our orientation perspective, and we had to withdraw from in-person orientation and decided to do everything virtually.”
However, some events didn’t translate to virtual orientation as well for quarantining students. “There were some Welcome Week activities we had here on campus they were not able to be part of because of quarantine, like the Activities Fair,” Global Ambassador Etta Brooks said.
With the involvement of SGA and the OSL in workshops and the participation of Global Ambassadors throughout the week, international students had a hybrid Welcome Week paired with tailored plans for students unfamiliar with the area. While students could not come to campus, they could explore the city responsibly.
“I went over there to help with a Quad Cities tour and we walked around town,” Brielle Jackson, Global Ambassador and junior at Augustana, said. Global Ambassadors were able to show quarantining students the highlights of downtown Rock Island instead of giving them the usual campus tour.
Per the updated CDC guidelines, quarantining international students were asked to practice social distancing, limit trips outside, and monitor themselves for the appearance of any COVID-19-related symptoms. They were not in a strict quarantine and were consequently able to leave the Holiday Inn at their own discretion.
“Students were able to go outside with masks, walk around and see things, know that there’s shops there, there’s restaurants there, there’s a park nearby,” Yang said.
While having a less-strict quarantine goes against early guidelines for international travel, the goal of housing students at the Holiday Inn was to separate them from the campus community for the weeks after they travel internationally. “These students needed to quarantine because of international travel, not because they had COVID-19 in any way.” Yang said. “It wasn’t because of the country they were from. That was just the guidelines.” Domestic students who traveled internationally over the summer were held to the same standard, though none were housed at the Holiday Inn.
When weighing options on students’ return to campus, the Augustana Strong Committee, of which Yang is a member, considered the needs of different types of students.
While some international students would live in campus housing over the summer, others would return home and come back to campus with time to quarantine by themselves before fall semester started. Incoming international freshmen attended high schools in the United States, transferred from other United States colleges or stayed with family and friends in the U.S. before coming to Augustana.
Rather than quarantining students on campus, residential life opted to work with a local hotel to keep Augustana populations separate.
“We were vetting four different hotels in the area and settled on the Holiday Inn in downtown Rock Island,” Chris Beyer, Director of Residential Life and Assistant Dean of Students said.
The Holiday Inn was chosen as it would provide students with three meals a day, a conference room to use for programming, and a shuttle to bring students to campus in the first two weeks of the semester. The hotel offered a safe option where international students could also acclimate before arriving on campus.
While staying in a hotel for a few weeks is not what most students imagine the start of their college career to look like, students in quarantine have been enthusiastic about working with the situation.
“I was first told that I would be doing quarantine in my dorm, so I ordered my bedding, fan and all of that, and then my plans got changed and I needed to quarantine at the hotel, so all of my things are in the mailing center,” freshman Fernanda Rubi said. “Aside from that, everything is going pretty well.”
Rubi arrived in the United States on August 20 and quarantined in the Holiday Inn from August 21 to September 4.  When most freshmen were nervous about making friends in times of social distancing, Rubi and the other students at the Holiday Inn were able to bond over their situation.
“We all became friends, especially because we were all struggling with the American cultural shock. We were all like Oh my god, this is what they have for breakfast? because I’m not used to bacon, hamburgers, or potatoes—real potatoes—for breakfast; I’m used to yogurt and fruit and oatmeal.” Rubi said. “It was good to be friends with people who were understanding what I was going through. I think, in part, it was easier because we were all going through the same stuff.”
As classes began, quarantining students operated as remote learners until they moved into campus housing.
“I don’t think it was an issue, doing things virtually first,” Rubi said. Once moved in, students can attend in-person classes as any other Augustana student would.
While adjusting to academics might not be a problem, getting involved on campus may be harder for students who were not able to attend the activities fair or other welcome week programming where groups can advertise themselves to incoming freshmen. Students who had been living off-campus missed out on essential information for their freshman year and will have to work harder to make up for it.
“It’s probably terrifying for them,” Jackson said.  “Especially with all the rumors of school closing down early and seeing the other colleges do that, I can’t imagine coming from your country to go to school and then school stopping two weeks later and then what do you do?”
Despite concerns surrounding the pandemic affecting education, Rubi chose to come to school rather than deferring for a semester or two. “It was a risk, but it is my education,” she said.
“I think the [incoming international freshmen] are really excited to be here,” Yang said. Students will have fully moved into campus housing by the second week of the semester, and will no longer use the Holiday Inn.
“They’ve worked really hard to get to where they are and overcome this kind of transition. A lot of them are really excited to finally be on-campus. I want to keep that momentum going and make sure that campus sees that they belong here and have worked hard.”