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Student Council organizes buses to transport international students back to Grounds

Shuttles will take students from Dulles airport to Charlottesville before classes resume for the fall semester

<p>The International Student Affairs agency was started in October 2020 due to a previous lack of international students in Student Council.</p>

The International Student Affairs agency was started in October 2020 due to a previous lack of international students in Student Council.

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The Student Council International Student Affairs Committee has arranged a system of transportation for students returning to Charlottesville for the upcoming semester. The initiative will provide two low-cost AirBus rides from Dulles International Airport — the closest major international airport — to Grounds on Aug. 16 and 18 before move-in for students living on Grounds begins Aug. 18. 

Fourth-year College student David Yang and third-year College student Avni Garg worked together as co-directors of the International Student Affairs Committee to develop an affordable and accessible way for students to make the two-hour drive from Dulles. 

The agency had to lobby the University to allow Student Council to implement the shuttle program. In June, the University announced that vaccinated international students would have to be quarantined for 48 hours to wait for a negative COVID-19 PCR test result after arriving in the United States. No arrangements were made for housing or transportation for these students, however, which Yang and Garg saw as a major problem. 

Yang and Garg organized a virtual meeting with international students and parents to hear concerns over how students would safely get to Charlottesville to build support and add pressure on the University to approve the shuttles. Around 80 people attended the meeting, which went on for two and half hours.  

It was then that Yang knew the University’s plan for international students to find their own transportation to Grounds was not acceptable.

“We figured out the missing piece — especially for parents — is the uncertainty that after their kids land, they don't know where to go,” Yang said. “They don't know if U.Va. will help them, to bring them back to Charlottesville, and they don't know — what does it look like to travel in a pandemic here? We're still in a pandemic.”

Garg noted how difficult the traveling process can be for international students, especially as they are forced to navigate COVID-19 travel restrictions. She said that she and Yang joke about how the flight is the easiest part — trying to figure out what comes next is what can be confusing. In addition, Uber and taxi trips can get expensive.

“David and I really wanted to take the burden off of international students trying to get back to Grounds, or at least trying to simplify just one of the things that they have to face while getting back,” Garg said. 

Garg explained that a greeting from someone associated with the University is a greatly undervalued experience for an international student arriving in the United States, so the bus program will provide this. After long flights and waiting to get through customs, Garg wants to make sure the next step is easy.

“It's an amazing, brand-new opportunity for Student Council, and we're really hopeful that it alleviates some of the stress on students and their parents, especially now when flying has been all the more complicated with the pre-testing and arrival requirements,” Garg said.

Yang also mentioned his peers’ frustrations over not having a convenient way to get from Dulles to Charlottesville, and Garg knew that the International Student Affairs agency’s vision was a way to have international student voices heard. 

Yang said they will market the shuttle program through emails to international students from the International Studies Office. Students can buy tickets for $28 online and sales end Aug. 12 at 11:59 p.m. EST. The buses will require students to wear masks while riding as well as during the entirety of the boarding and unloading processes. Bus capacities have also been reduced to allow drivers and students more space to socially distance themselves. 

Vice Provost for Global Affairs Stephen Mull was the agency’s most powerful resource in addition to the agency’s great relationship with the International Studies and Global Affairs offices, Yang said. Mull was able to provide a direct channel of communication between Student Council and University administration in creating the AirBus system.

The International Student Affairs agency was started in October 2020 due to a previous lack of international students in Student Council. Yang noted that international students are less involved with student self-governance in comparison to the rest of the student body, and Garg advocated for greater international student engagement.

“We welcome your voice so please please reach out to us, tell us what your community needs [and] how we can make it better for everyone,” Garg said.

This fall, the agency is looking forward to putting together a guidebook for international students with tips and explanations about things that may be obvious to domestic students but could be confusing to students who have not spent much time on Grounds. Additionally, they plan to provide activities to make international students feel more at home and help them find their place within the student population after many stayed home this past year.

“We miss you and Grounds isn’t colorful or vibrant without you,” Garg said to international students. “Please come out and vote and apply for Student Council, and just enjoy your time here.”