Can I travel this winter for health-related purposes?

Date: October 2020


Hi deans,

I am a second year graduate student and I am currently working as a TA.

I have a question about traveling this winter. I want to visit Korea for a month because of my health problems. Korea now has a strict quarantine system for two weeks, so if I want to get a medical examination, I need at least a month. I asked Global Learning about my visa status, and they said it would be fine if I come back before the official start date of the spring semester, but I wasn’t sure about the policy in the Graduate School and in my field.

Would it be possible for me to leave at the end of semester and come back before the spring semester? If so, can I leave earlier than the official end date of the fall semester and keep TAing online? Or can I leave after the official end date of this semester?

Please let me know, and thank you for your help.


Hopefully a Winter Traveler


Dear Hopefully a Winter Traveler,

I appreciate you asking the question. And, I am pleased that you have already reached out to Global Learning to make sure that this plan would be supported by immigration. As long as your graduate field, advisor, and assistantship supervisors are OK with you performing your duties remotely for the remainder of the fall semester it is OK for you to travel home. There is a possible risk you should be aware of. For the spring semester, it may not be possible to hold a remote assistantship from outside the U.S., so if you decide not to return to the U.S. in January you may be ineligible for assistantship funding. 

I understand that between coronavirus and your health that this is much more complicated than in years past. Furthermore, handling the time between semesters balanced with your research responsibilities and the fact that you are TAing the rest of this Fall semester makes this ever more difficult to manage. That said, here is what I would recommend that you do…

  • Talk with your DGS and advisor about your plans, and also have a “back-up plan” in case you are unable to return at the start of the spring term. We don’t know if there might be travel restrictions, delays at consulates, airline cancellations, or if the COVID infection rates may change in either country. All of these factors might impact your travel plans. Also, are there activities that you will be able to do back in Korea?
    • If your health is something that will not allow you to make academic progress (at any time during this process), you may want to consider taking a health leave of absence during this period. This is a separation from your academic responsibilities but allows you to focus on your health. Instead, your academic requirements are put on pause until you formally return from the health leave. More information can be found on the Cornell Health website.
    • If you think that you can manage academic work (including your TAship) while in Korea, this would need to be negotiated between your academic advisor and your TA advisor. Please know that you would be able to keep your TAship through the Fall semester while in Korea, but that if you plan to TA in the Spring semester, you will need to be back in the United States to be able to do this. And, if traveling to Korea is a must for medical reasons, please consider what happens if you are not able to return to the U.S. this Spring by the time that the semester begins (February 9).
  • Become familiar with policies that will support you. Specifically, there is a provision about graduate students’ time away that may give you some structure to what you could request.  Also, since you mention that this is being prompted to address medical needs, please consider enlisting the support of Student Disability Services (SDS) who can work with you to create an accommodation plan for the next couple of months allowing you to balance academic responsibilities, vacation time, and your health needs. SDS can be reached through their website.
  • When your plans are finalized, I would recommend that you consider putting this in writing for all to document your plans moving forward and share with your advisor and DGS.

This sounds complicated, but hopefully, the points above provide you some direction on what to consider and what to do. 

All the best,


Janna Lamey
Senior Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Life