As University of Mississippi students close out their fourth week off-campus and second week of online classes during the coronavirus pandemic, many are still adjusting to life away from Oxford — and it’s not always easy.
Some students left their cars and important belongings on campus and are now without them indefinitely. Others face taking classes in different time zones or letting go of long-planned traditions at the end of the academic year.
Nikki Daoust, a senior integrated marketing and communications major, planned a cruise for spring break. The day before leaving, with the number of international cases of COVID-19 rising her mother decided it wasn’t safe.. Daoust packed several days’ worth of clothes into her suitcase and booked a flight home to Newport Beach, California, not knowing that she would be indefinitely unable to return to Oxford.
“Honestly, it all kind of hit me really quickly, and I never expected that it would go on this long,” she said. “I was not at all prepared to stay here for the rest of the semester. I packed maybe for coming home for a week, if that. I mean, my suitcase was only twenty pounds, so all of my stuff is still at school. I have no clue when I’m going to be able to go back.”
After rescheduling her returning flight to Oxford three times as the state of California gradually increased its public health recommendations, Daoust finally cancelled it. Then, she realized that meant her car would have to remain parked at the Memphis airport for weeks on end.
“We called Memphis asking for a refund with our parking because it was going to be a $500-800 bill by the time I got back,” she said. “At first, they kind of said, ‘No, we can’t do anything. Sorry. Tough luck. Have fun.’”
However, after local Memphis news station WMC5 interviewed Daoust about her situation, airport officials contacted her and refunded her parking charges from the date of her original return flight on March 14 onward.
The maximum parking duration at the airport is 30 days, and if airport officials are not contacted by that time about extended parking needs, the Memphis International Airport website says cars may be towed.
“It seems like (the airport is) working with people, but it just kind of took them the extra step (of getting media attention) to actually get there, which is kind of strange,” Daoust said. “You would think that everyone would try to be going and helping each other with the impact of coronavirus.”
In a statement to WMC5, Memphis airport officials said they are actively working to assist customers and make changes where necessary.
Moving across the country
Corrine Taylor, a senior journalism major, was also concerned about leaving her car parked at the Memphis airport after flying home to Orange County, California, but instead of requesting a refund, she found a friend to pick her car up for her and return it to her apartment complex in Oxford. Still, Taylor said she is worried about how she and others in similar situations can get their cars back to their home states.
“There’s a group of, like, ten of us from Orange County who ship our cars to and from Oxford together every year, so that’s what we’re probably going to end up doing,” Taylor said. “The problem with that is someone has to be there to make sure that all of our cars get onto the truck, but obviously, all of us are in California.”
Shipping a car across the country can cost upward of $500.
Another effect of the pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home ordinance that Taylor has found difficult is being without the majority of her clothes and valuables that are still in her Oxford home.
“It may sound kind of shallow, but those are my valuable possessions, and now I’m stuck at home without them,” she said. “I’ve been having to look into hiring a moving service to completely move me out and bring my things to California.”
A mover from Gentle Moving USA, a commonly used interstate moving company, estimated the cost of a standard two-bedroom apartment move from Oxford to Orange County to be between $1,600 and $1,800.
“Like most moving companies, we charge by the weight of what we move and by distance we move it,” he said. “You’re looking at nearly 2,000 miles, so that’s going to be expensive.”
Trading tradition for safety
Besides the monetary costs that students have faced while trying to stay safe during the pandemic, the university’s move to online classes has cost graduating seniors many traditions, including a graduation ceremony.
“Not that it’s funny that this is happening during our senior year, but it just kind of plays into that of the ‘One never truly graduates from Ole Miss,’ and this is truly pushing graduation out indefinitely,” Daoust said.
International students who are in their final semester in the United States, like junior general business major Bianca Corallo, are faced with a similar loss of experience.
“I’m obviously really upset that I don’t get to finish out the semester,” Corallo said. “I wanted the whole-year experience because I wanted as much time as possible, and I wanted to experience the typical Ole Miss events in both semesters.”
After receiving the university-wide email from Chancellor Glenn Boyce on March 19 that classes would remain online for the remainder of the semester, Corallo decided to stay in the United States and live with her roommate’s family in Dallas, Texas. This decision went against the advice of her home university in Australia, the International Students Exchange Program and the Australian government.
“No one is allowed to enter the country now who is not a citizen or a resident, so a lot of airlines are cancelling flights because they can’t fill a flight with only a few Australians,” Corallo said. “The question now is just when I do want to go home, if I’ll be able to.”
On March 17, just three days before the country closed its borders to all non-citizens and non-residents, Australian authorities called for all citizens who were overseas to return to the country, saying that those who don’t “may have to work it out for themselves.”
While Corallo found this warning and others from University of Technology Sydney to be “a bit scary,” she ultimately decided that her experience in the United States was worth the risk.
“I came here for the experience, which has now, sadly, been cut short, but I really didn’t want to cut it even shorter by just going home,” she said. “I’ve had to sign documents saying that if anything happens to me, it’s not their fault because they advised me to come home.”
Corallo also said she wouldn’t feel safe on an international flight right now, and if she gets the chance, she will happily return to Ole Miss “to experience all of the small-town Southern traditions” that she has missed out on.