UBC students decide whether to remain in Vancouver or travel home in wake of COVID-19 pandemic

In the wake of UBC’s March 16 announcement that all final exams would be held online, international and domestic students alike were left with the difficult task of choosing between travelling home and staying in Vancouver until the COVID-19 pandemic winds down.

The Ubyssey chatted with some students to understand how they decided.

To stay

First-year arts students Heidi Collie, from England, and José Reyeros, from Mexico, both made the decision to remain in Vancouver. Both students were wary of how their home countries have been reacting to the pandemic and felt safer isolating in Canada.

“My first thought was I’m definitely gonna go home,” said Collie. “And then I saw that actually Europe wasn’t dealing with it very well. … And then I think because a few of my friends are staying here as well, I thought it might actually be quite fun.”

“Once my uncle got [the coronavirus] and we were seeing more and more cases, it was kind of a stay where you are type thing. It’s just best not to travel and also Canada seems to be dealing with it well,” Collie added.

Yet the exponential spread of the virus has ensured that the students who choose to stay do so with the uncertainty of their circumstances in Canada. But many of these students have come to call Vancouver home and viewed packing up to their home countries as a disruption on the lives they are trying to build for themselves here.

“I think that between the main things that I consider to stay here is that I feel safer in this country,” said Reyeros.

“In the end, I’m trying to create a life of my own in Vancouver. I think this is kind of the ultimate testing for that.”

Or to go?

After Brandon University in Manitoba announced student residences were closing, Ava Lanoway’s mother rented a car and drove to BC to take her daughter back to Winnipeg. The third-year political science major is another student who has built a large community in Vancouver.

“At this point being in year three, I’ve structured so much of my life in Vancouver and at UBC, particularly on the campus,” said Lanoway. “So uprooting with two days notice — and then driving halfway across the country — was and still is not the decision that I wanted to make. But I do understand where the concern was and I know that it was aimed solely at safety.”

UBC students abroad and in Vancouver alike also have consider the concern of closing borders.

Katy Ho, a fourth-year business student, was on exchange in London when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. At the time UBC had only strongly recommended students on exchange travel home, but Ho decided to end her exchange four months early and has since returned to her home in Calgary.

“When I first found out I had to come back, it was really sad,” she said. “I do have some friends who decided to stay and they're trapped and they can’t leave because all the borders are closed. And they can't even enjoy their exchange anymore because all the shops and public transport [are] shutting down so I feel like it’s definitely best to be home with family right now. … We can worry about having fun later.”

Similarly, first-year science student Nate Sternberg and visiting student from France Thomas Horlans both made the decision to travel home soon after UBC moved classes online.

“[I was] worried that if I stuck it out any longer, that there’s a potential that flights could be grounded, or I wouldn’t be able to cross provincial lines anymore and get home,” said Sternberg, who has returned home to Ontario.

Lanoway and Sternberg were both intentional in their avoidance of Vancouver International Airport. Lanoway opted to drive halfway across Canada to Manitoba and Sternberg chose to fly out of the less-busy Abbotsford Airport. While domestic students may have had this option, students who had to travel overseas were left deciding between the safety of major airports and the possibility of being stuck in Canada.

Horlans also originally intended to isolate in Vancouver until the end of April, citing the severity of the lockdown situation in France. But after Air France and Air Canada both announced plans to heavily decrease international flights, Horlans decided to risk air travel and quarantine for 14 days on his return for the chance of having a home come May.

“It’s certainly riskier in France than in Canada now, but what will it be at the end of April?” asked Horlans.

“To an extent, it’s a safer bet than ending up homeless in Vancouver, especially if the outbreak is not contained.”