These past few semesters have been unlike any other for most students. The pandemic has undoubtedly made the college experience limited in many different ways; for those studying in the United States for the first time, those limitations are heavily felt.
“Usually people come abroad or specifically to the U.S. to interact and network with people from different backgrounds and countries. Because the U.S. provides that kind of culture,” explained Lohith Bollineni, a graduate international student from India who is pursuing a Master’s degree in computer science.
“Generally that happens inside the university, ” Bollineni continued. “But unfortunately due to Covid, everything has become online, and we don’t really get to meet people that much, as we used to before.”
During regular semesters, international students are greeted by a large number of representatives from our campus community, such as staff, orientation leaders and student athletes, upon arrival. Usually, students traveling from abroad are provided food, activities and events, such as a trip to the mall to collect essentials, when they reach campus.
This semester, Residence Life and International Student Services were the main representatives assisting students with check-in. Knowing the experience would be different this year than most, Cindy Cullen, coordinator for International Student Services, wanted to find a way to still give newly arriving, on-campus international students a warm welcome.
“We wanted to make sure in this time that we were providing some of the similar comforts,” Cullen said. “But in a more socially distanced way.”
One of the obstacles facing international students studying in the U.S. during the pandemic is the requirement to quarantine for up to 10 days upon arrival. Cullen noted that for some students, this comes after traveling for 24 hours or even longer, and many students are only able to travel with a limited number of items since they couldn’t bring a lot of luggage on an international flight.
So, with help from director for the Institute for International Business Jeff Pollard, who donated some resources, and coordinator for housing operations Rafael Calderon, who gave Cullen access to Awosting Hall where international students had to quarantine, Cullen organized and delivered care packages before students arrived. These packages consisted of fresh pillows, sheets, food and even a Hugo the Hawk stuffed animal.
During regular semesters, international students are able to attend local trips to go apple picking or are taken to see famous cities such as Washington D.C. But due to the pandemic, welcome events had to be made virtual.
But students such as Bollineni feel that the virtual environment makes it difficult to foster the same connections, “You can’t just set up a video call or an audio call to have an informal conversation … if you meet in person and get to know [professors, peers], that’s more authentic.”
“I just really admire the resiliency of the students and the courage, especially when it comes to the international students,” Cullen said, “to come to a place that they’re not familiar with, and still pursue this amazing opportunity that they have even during a challenging time.”