Sanyukta Kumar with her daughters Sanjana, Saanika and husband Kumar
Sanyukta with her daughters Sanjana, Saanika and husband Karan Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Parents with children studying in the US are a worried lot after coronavirus fears have prompted many universities to suspend classes and ask students to vacate on-campus housing accommodations.

Ever since coronavirus struck in the US, a growing number of universities across the country have either cancelled or suspended classes, leaving thousands of international students in a spot.

As of March 13, the US has confirmed over 1,800 cases and 41 deaths due to coronavirus. The first case was announced on January 21 when a man in his 30s from Washington state, who had travelled to Wuhan, tested positive. Thereafter, the virus has rapidly spread to Seattle, California, New York and other states, some of which have even declared an emergency.

Speaking to Gulf News, many parents in the UAE said their children are torn between staying back in the US and flying home to the UAE as there are huge implications either way.

Trying times

Dubai-based Sanyukta Kumar, founder of make-up consultancy BlendbySanky and mother of two, said, “Both my girls are in Washington DC. My younger one, Saanika, is a freshman and will be flying back home on Sunday as her college is shut till April 5, after which classes will be held online. My elder daughter, Sanjana, who is doing her doctorate, however, has to stay back because she can’t get her licensing done if she leaves the country. She is asthmatic and is in a high-risk category. And that’s stressing me out.”

These are trying times for families. We’ve never come across any situation like this in our lifetime. All we can do is take care to the best extent we can and provide each other emotional support

- Sanyukta Kumar, mum of two

Kumar said, “These are trying times for families. We’ve never come across any situation like this in our lifetime. All we can do is take care to the best extent we can and provide each other emotional support.”

Risk of exposure

The father of an undergraduate student in New York, who did not want to be named, said, “Spring break begins on March 14 and my daughter’s university has asked her to vacate the on-campus housing. She can either stay back or come down, but both carry the risk of exposure. There’s the cost and safety factors too if she stays back at a hotel accommodation. So we don’t know what to do.”

Accommodation in New York doesn't come cheap, say parents Image Credit: Agency

Abu Dhabi-based Carmel D’souza also said she is finding an alternative accommodation for her son who studies in New York.

“We don’t want him to stay in the dorm. Neither do we want him to fly back home. So we are putting him up for a month in an Airbnb accommodation. It means an added expense for us but we are left with no choice. All we are doing now is praying that the situation is under control.”

Dealing with a dillemma

Angela, another mother in Dubai, said her son Andy in Boston had also been asked to vacate his dorm. “It has been such a dilemma. We first thought he should come down here, but he will be graduating in May, so we decided against the long-haul travel. He will now be flying to Buffalo to stay with a friend. At least, the two boys will be together at a time like this and they can finish their online studies.”

Dubai-based Anita A, whose son Aman also studies in a university in Boston, has taken a similar decision.

Anita said Aman was due to fly home to Dubai for the spring break. But he was advised against travelling by his professor.

“He is in his final year of studies and part of his course required him to start a business in the US which he has done. He would stand to lose a lot if he travelled. In any case, travel at this point is not recommended. He has taken special permission to stay on at the dorm. We are concerned about his health and safety but there’s not much we can do,” she said.

Separation pangs

For most families, the root of the problem lies in the fact that the family is scattered in what is a global crisis. At one level, they acknowledge that coronavirus is a pandemic and can strike anyone anywhere. But they also feel it would somehow be easier and make them feel better if the family is together.

“Youngsters tend to be casual in their approach. They don’t feel the need to stock up on groceries, take precautions about where they go or what they do. There’s only that much you can tell them over the phone. I feel very helpless sometimes,” said one of the parents.

Poonam Bhojani, CEO of the Innoventures Education, which run five schools and eight nurseries in Dubai, said she shared the concerns of many parents.

Poonam Bhojani

“As universities are letting their students and employees in the US to learn or work remotely, we feel concerned about the well-being of our alumni. We are hearing of our alumni returning to Dubai as Dubai is perceived as a safer place with better medical infrastructure than a lot of cities/countries. Moreover, the UAE Government is taking strong action to curb the virus,” she noted.

Indian Consulate advisory

With a large number of Indian students studying in US universities, the Consulate General of India in New York has issued an advisory to the community. This is a gist of what it says:

• If you are staying in on-campus housing and are asked to leave, check with your university if you can apply and stay in assigned housing.

• If the university does not accept the request, ask your friends if you can stay with them till the time the university is shut

• If university services are shut, make it point to find out how the medical services, international student services will be impacted

• Avoid non-essential travel internationally and domestically. If you do plan to travel internationally, please find out how any future travel restrictions may challenge your J -1 or F-1 status.

• If you are travelling to India, you will be subjected to medical screening upon arrival and may be required to undergo a minimum 14-day quarantine.