EXCLUSIVE: International students from Virginia Tech headed home as coronavirus worsens


ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) – For two foreign exchange students in Blacksburg, who are living thousands of miles away from their families back home, the growing outbreak of the coronavirus is a big concern.

Around the world international trips are being cancelled, countries are under lockdown, and people are self-quarantining.

Schools and universities across the country are also taking steps to limit the spread coronavirus, including Virginia Tech.

On March 11, the university announced they will be making a transition to online classes for the rest of the spring semester.

Andres Garcia, a senior from Spain, says he never saw this coming. He’s currently in his second semester.

“I thought I was staying here and completing the rest of the semester,” says Garcia. “But as things got progressively worse, it became obvious that the best thing to do was to go back.”

In fact, Garcia says most of the school’s foreign exchange students have already gone back.

Jacobo Sambuchi, a senior from Italy, says the whole reason he decided to study abroad was for the classroom experience. He arrived to Virginia Tech on January 11.

After the university announced that classes were moving online, he still planned to stay on campus and meet new people. That all changed when people started leaving.

“The experience was just not worth it anymore. It’s also risky for my graduation, my Master’s [degree], to continue staying here when I might not be able to go back to Europe,” says Sambuchi.

Not only was staying at the university a risk for the two students, but returning home as well. Italy and Spain are a few of several European countries that are being severely affected. According to CNN, Italy has more than 31,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.

Both countries are currently under lockdown.

Sambuchi says both Virginia Tech and his university back home have been very supportive in the choices he’s made.

“Obviously, it’s a big loss for the experiences, the money, the time invested, the amount of work put in, but it’s something you can’t control,” says Sambuchi.

Garcia says he’s had a similar experience.

“I’ve been in contact with my parents about what to do. They were supportive on whatever I chose to do, but they thought there was no point in staying here,” says Garcia.

After consideration, both Garcia and Sambuchi decided to pack their bags and head home, leaving behind the college experience they longed to have.

They arrived bright and early to Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport Wednesday morning.

Although there are fewer cases in the United States compared to Spain, Garcia says the country’s recent lockdown will allow him to quarantine.

“[In Spain] people can’t even go to the streets. As soon as I get home, that shouldn’t be an issue. The problem is having to go through all the airports and flights. So we just have to be careful,” says Garcia.

Sambuchi says he’s confident in how serious the Italian government has been handling the spread of the virus.

“There is a lockdown. I will go back into quarantine. I will be safe,” says Sambuchi. “I also have free healthcare back at home, which is way less risky if I want to take a test [for the coronavirus].”

When asked if they have plans to return to Virginia Tech, Garcia says the future is uncertain.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to. I think this issue is going to last for some months. Also, our visas will expire soon, so I don’t think we can come back,” says Garcia.

“Theoretically, I would love to come back. It’s my first time in the U.S. and I’ve loved it so far. But I’m graduating in two months, and I don’t think the situation will be better in two months,” says Sambuchi.

But they still remain hopeful.

“You win some, you lose some,” says Sambuchi.

Watch the full interview here:


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