International student-athletes returning home as borders reopen

Sophomore forward Georgia Carr-Brown fights for possession in in the April 13 A-10 semifinals against the Richmond Spiders.

Leah Polk, Contributing Writer

Field hockey student-athlete Janne Wetzel faced a difficult decision in March 2020 when many countries, including her hometown of Munich, Germany, began closing their borders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was on spring break in Mexico and everything went down,” the senior back said. “I went back to Richmond after, and everything happened really quickly. I had to decide whether I would go home, or [stay] in the states to be in the same time zone to finish my semester.” 

Wetzel could not find any flights to Germany, and ultimately chose to stay with a teammate in Burlington, Canada.

Wetzel has been able to travel from Germany to the U.S. using her F-1 visa. An F-1 visa allows students to enter into the U.S. as a full-time student at an accredited college, university or other academic institution, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

Wetzel said she went back to Germany after finishing the spring 2020 semester and when flights were available. At the time, Germany was only allowing citizens and essential workers into its borders, according to BBC News.  

Wetzel said she will use her visa to go back home to Germany for winter break this year. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, many VCU international student-athletes found difficulty getting into their home countries and finding flights due to COVID-19. VCU has 61 international student-athletes across all sports, according to Director of Athletic Communications Evan Nicely. 

Unlike Wetzel, field hockey sophomore forward Georgia Carr-Brown has not seen her family for eight months. The Brisbane, Australia native said that she “hasn’t really left Richmond” since February of this year. Carr-Brown said that eight months is the longest she has ever been away from home.

Carr-Brown has not been able to go home due to Australia’s closed border. On Oct. 1, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that in November, Australian borders would be reopened to fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents, according to CNN.

“It’s kind of getting a bit exhausting,” Carr-Brown said. “I want to go see my family because I do miss them quite a bit now. But it’s not the end of the world, I still have great friends around me, I’m doing fine.”

VCU is home to many international student-athletes that hail from all over the world. Now as travel restrictions lift, and borders begin to open, the wait is almost over for international student-athletes, who will soon reunite with their families. 

U.S. citizens are permitted to enter Germany with a negative PCR test; fully vaccinated individuals do not need to quarantine, according to NBC News. 

On Nov. 19 or earlier, when 70% of the Queensland, Australia population is vaccinated, no restrictions or quarantine will be required for domestic travel to Queensland, according to the Queensland government.

Both Wetzel and Carr-Brown have had their fair share of struggles amid the pandemic. But now, after months of separation, some athletes are finally able to leave the United States.

“Rules have been lifted,” Carr-Brown said. “We [Australia] actually are internationally traveling again starting at the end of November. I’m very excited because I did not think I was going home for another eight months.” 

Australia and Germany are currently listed as Level 3 high-risk countries; a full vaccination status is recommended before travelling, according to the ​​Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The VCU Athletics department aids athletes with some expenses needed to return home, but not with main transportation costs; however, athletes are allowed to use money included in their cost-of-attendance scholarships for those costs, according to Nicely.

Cost-of-attendance scholarships provide athletes funds to help pay the full costs of attending college, such as travel and other expenses, according to the NCAA.

“The NCAA has allowed us a lot of flexibility to help with those costs,” Nicely said. “So, if they need a COVID[-19] test when they get back to their country, we’ll pay for it. Heaven forbid they get stuck at the border and need a hotel room for a night in order to get across. We’re able to help them with that as well.” 

Wetzel said it has been stressful traveling between the U.S. and Germany during the pandemic. 

“It’s very different in the states — winter break last year [in Germany] everything was in lockdown,” Wetzel said. “Whereas in the states way more things were open, like restaurants. I was able to do things. It’s always an adjustment coming back and forth.” 

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