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International students rushing to get home in wake of border closures, COVID-19

International students rushing to get home in wake of border closures, COVID-19
WATCH ABOVE: Students return home.

Cassidy Rheaume arrived at her exchange in Australia thinking the only obstacle she would have to overcome were the wildfires. She had no idea her exchange would be cut short due to the global pandemic of COVID-19.

Rheaume got an email from the University of Saskatchewan (USask) on March 14, urging her to come home. Back then, she said she felt comfortable staying.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan renters, landlords seek clarity from province during COVID-19 state of emergency

After reading the Canadian news, though, Rheaume said she realized how bad the situation was.

Rheaume’s mother booked a flight for her on March 18 and she returned home on March 19.

The economics student said USask was supportive throughout the process. She is now self-isolating at home in Grande Prairie, Alta.

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Another international student, Shelby Tornato, returned to Saskatoon from Minot, N.D., on March 13.

She said this was after faculty advised students to go home in case the borders closed.

“My apartment is still in Minot so I still have to pay my rent there and figure out what I’m going to do. If I have to move home, how am I going to get all my stuff? It’s a lot of stuff up in the air and that’s kind of the worst part, just not knowing,” Tornato said she also left behind an on-campus job.

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Jackson Wiegers was unsure about cutting her exchange in Perth short but after pressure from the government and USask, she decided to book a flight home to Saskatoon.

She said booking a flight was costly, but USask offered to pay the difference of an original return ticket if she had one.

“It just shows [USask] is committed to getting students home,” Wiegers said.

READ MORE: Team launched in Saskatchewan to help with business hardships caused by COVID-19

Wiegers returned home on Sunday. She is now in self-isolation.

She said she is required to pay a termination fee of approximately 900 Australian dollars for her residence in Perth.

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Ultimately, Wiegers said she is sad about leaving but said it’s for the best.

“I obviously have a life at home that I want to get back to and a job beginning in September.”

For accounting student Jenae Funk, a conversation with her history professor in Amsterdam about how serious the pandemic is led her to a decision to return home.

Funk had left for her exchange in January and although she knew about the novel coronavirus, she didn’t think it would spread “so quickly” and affect her exchange at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

She started thinking about returning home after waking up one morning last week to news of 500 cases appearing in the Netherlands.

“It was hard because when you’re on exchange you know you only have those six months to experience as much as you can, so the selfish part of me wanted to stay but then the more I thought about it the more I realized that was unsafe.”

The 23-year-old booked her flight home on Tuesday and arrived in Saskatoon Saturday night, where she is now in self-isolation.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

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Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.