Lonely Summer: International Students’ Struggles Follow in Fall

by Abigail Cloutier

The Lariccia Collaboratory Lab is where international students once held get-togethers and mixers such as International Coffee Hour before COVID-19. Photo by Joseph Chapman

After many countries went on lockdown due to COVID-19, the majority of international students bunkered down on empty campuses. At Youngstown State University, many students chose to stay in their dorms or apartments after campus shut down. The students who stayed shared their experiences and expressed uncertainties about fall. 

Senior computer science major Aniket Singh stayed in Kilcawley House over the summer. 

“My country [Nepal] was in complete lockdown,” Singh said. “I wasn’t able to go back home, and it wasn’t a safer option either.”

According to Singh, other international students sparsely populated the dorms. The university arranged for food distributions in Kilcawley Center, with a supplemental food pantry available.

“It was pretty boring because nobody was there,” he said. 

The International Programs Office provides support for international students during the pandemic.

Many of Singh’s friends chose not to return in the fall. 

“Some because they don’t feel safe enough to come back, some because they have underlying health conditions or their parents don’t feel safe,” he said. While a few chose to continue online, most took a gap year.

While Singh’s parents used to worry about their son, Singh now worries for them as COVID-19 cases rise in Nepal. Many countries, including Nepal, locked down, making loans and money transfers inaccessible. 

“As an international student, you can’t really get loans in the U.S. You have to get it back home, which is not possible right now,” he said.

Trang Nguyen, sophomore finance major, lived in Cafaro house but made an emergency move to the Enclave apartments for three months in July.

“I had to stay in summer, [rent is] expensive. I don’t have any relatives here,” Nguyen said. “I had to ask my friend to take me to get groceries because the YSU shuttle bus shut down at the end of April.”

Though the pandemic has improved in Hanoi, Vietnam, she worries about getting home to renew her visa for next year.

“According to my plan, I decided to maybe go back home this summer to renew my visa, but they shut everything down,” Nguyen said. “So I’m worried about whether I can [go] back in winter or next summer.”

My Le, senior business administration major, flew home to Vietnam when the pandemic heightened in the U.S. in March. Since she’s graduating this spring, she returned to YSU to continue her degree. However, she still has concerns about fall.

“My biggest concern is protecting my own health. We can wear masks, but what if someone else isn’t that concerned? My biggest concern is whether it is safe for me at school,” Le said.

With students’ home countries still on lockdown and students uncertain about how long campuses will remain open, international enrollment at YSU dropped this semester.

“Last year, we had 475 [international students],” associate provost for international and global initiatives Nathan Myers said. “My hunch is it’s going to be a little less than 400 [this semester] due to the pandemic.” 

Myers said some previously-enrolled students took a gap year, contributing to the decline. However, many expected freshmen and transfer students couldn’t get visas, meaning they couldn’t enroll.

“We were anticipating, looking at the numbers in early March, about 200 incoming [international] students this fall,” he said. “When the dust settled, it turned into 30 new students. Of the 30, I think we had one incoming freshman that had never been to college before that was able to obtain a visa.” 

All students traveling from other countries quarantined for 14 days before returning to campus. The university canceled International Coffee Hour, cultural celebrations and international student organization meetings. These activities played a role as community bonding for the students.

“It can be a lonely and disorienting experience to travel to a new country and to live in a new country. At this time it’s even more dislocating and jarring because you can’t get together and you can’t interact. I know that international students have a tough time right now,” Myers said. “I think that anything that we can do, any measures that we can take on a personal basis, would go a really long way.”

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