SUU International Students Stuck in Cedar for the Holidays

Beginning on Monday, Nov. 30, Southern Utah University classes will be completely remote for the remainder of the semester. For most students, this means returning home to be with their families for the holidays while they complete their courses.

But for international students who are studying away from their native country, going home might not be an option this winter.

When Southern Utah University sophomore Ignacio Paz moved from tropical San Jose, Costa Rica to the Cedar City desert, he didn’t expect a global pandemic to get in the way of being able to see his family for Christmas. 

“The whole not being away from family, not being able to see them every day for a big amount of time, I was already kind of used to that…It’s been a year already since I came to SUU, and I did go back to Costa Rica for Christmas last year, but I won’t be doing that this year because of COVID,” Paz said. 

The COVID-19 outbreak has not only affected the course of the semester, but it has made international travel more difficult. According to Paz, Costa Rica took a strict approach to controlling the virus, including a temporary closure of the country’s borders and airport. 

Currently, Costa Rica has had 90,238 cases of COVID-19, compared to Utah’s 87,819.

“My thoughts are, ‘Well if I were to go back home to Costa Rica, I would probably have to quarantine for two weeks, and then after that, what if the whole COVID situation gets worse there and they close the airport again, and I’m not able to come back to the states to continue my studies?’” Paz said.  

As an admissions assistant in the International Admissions Office, Paz interacts with international students daily. Although Paz isn’t the only one reluctant to travel home, he says the majority of students he’s spoken with say they plan to take their chances.  

“It’s a risk that we’re either willing to take, or not,” Paz said.

Fortunately, SUU has created a welcoming environment for those visiting from other countries. After the short-lived announcement from the Trump Administration that international students would be stripped of their visas if they were not attending in-person classes, SUU took extra precaution to assure students are welcome, regardless of their citizenship. 

According to Paz, the university updated its I-20 form to include that SUU is a “hybrid” campus. This immigration form protects students from deportation should they choose to only attend online classes while living in Cedar City. 

“If the I-20s didn’t have that, then they wouldn’t let us come in…Thankfully, I would say SUU’s already working really hard…and with all the limitations, at least at [International Student Affairs], we’re working as best as we can…” Paz said.  

As far as the upcoming holidays go, Paz hasn’t quite figured out how to celebrate. His birthday lands four days before Christmas, so he plans to spend the time with his brother who also lives in Cedar City. 


Story by: Amanda Walton
Photos Courtesy of Amanda Walton and Ignacio Paz