Student studying in Japan to return to US

While classes at Marshall University closed due to COVID-19, Marshall students in Japan studying at Kansai Gaidai University have been facing classes moving online for weeks and some are now being told to return home. 

Erica Burns, a junior at Marshall who is double majoring in Japanese and statistics, said she received an email on Feb. 29 stating that because of the coronavirus all face to face classes were going to be suspended until March 20. 

“The first message we got told us that we would go to online classes until after our spring break, which is March 16-20, and to put social distancing into practice,” Burns said. “Then a few days later, we got the email that recommended that all students return home, but they weren’t requiring it.”

Burns said that while other universities were bringing their exchange students back home, she was hoping that Marshall would allow her to stay in Japan.

“It was really scary. I was really upset because I have worked really hard to be here and it has been a dream and a goal of mine for the past two years,” Burns said. “I had planned on four months down here and had a bucket list of things to do before we left that I wouldn’t be able to accomplish now.”

Burns said she discussed the desire of staying in Japan with her parents because they were not requiring her to come back to the U.S. Traveling back to West Virginia would mean flight connections in Tokyo, Japan and Atlanta, Georgia before landing in Charleston, West Virginia. The Center for Disease Control website has been monitoring locations with confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and both Tokyo and Georgia are included in the lists of infected areas.

“At that time, me and my parents agreed that it would be safer for me to stay in Japan and continue to take precautions like washing my hands, not touching my face and trying not to go out a ton,” Burns said.

Burns said she forwarded the email from her university in Japan to Marshall and explained why she believed they should stay in Japan rather than travel home and expose themselves by going through all the airports in areas with confirmed cases.

“Marshall replied saying that at that time, they were not going to require us to come home,” she said. “That was a big relief, to know that we had their support and that they listened to us and agreed that it would be safer for us to stay here right now.”

The email agreeing to let them stay was sent on March 11, the same day that Marshall decided to put classes online. 

On March 13, Burns received an email from Boren Awards, which was sponsoring her scholarship that allowed her to go to Japan. It stated that under no circumstances could the students stay in Japan because of orders from the U.S. Department of State.

“Boren said they couldn’t support me being there anymore because they are with the State Department, who is requiring we come back and Boren can’t go against that,” Burns said. “Which ultimately, I understand that you can’t go against the State Department very easily.”

Students in Japan have been asked to be back in the country by March 22 and will be allowed to continue online classes at Kansai Gaidai University in order to receive credit for the semester. 

Emily Hayslett can be contacted at [email protected]