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The Struggle of International Students During the Pandemic

Ohio Wesleyan international students suddenly found themselves alone on campus when the pandemic hit spring break of 2020.

The campus was shut down, and students who had already left for break remained home.

International students were then consolidated into a few dorms to save

money, a stressful situation for the students.

Sakshi Gupta, a senior from India, was asked to move from her original dorm in Welch Hall to Bashford Hall.

There was no one to help her move, so she asked an administration member to turn on the elevator in Bashford, which has four floors. Her request was denied, and a public safety officer helped her move instead. Next, she asked the officer to unlock the elevator, but OWU also rejected that request.

“That afternoon, I had a heat stroke and passed out … outside Bashford,” said Gupta, who is prone to heat strokes.

International students like Gupta were left in an indefinite state of uncertainty as the rest of the world closed its borders.

Kristin Crosby, Director of International Admissions, also faced many challenges in trying to aid international students.

“Not only did things shut down here in the U.S., but there were countries that students couldn’t fly home [to] because that particular country wasn’t allowing anyone to enter,” she said.

Some students haven’t been able to see their families for years due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Gupta, for example, hasn’t returned to India since August 2020, and Tiyinoluwa Olushola-alao, a junior from Nigeria, hasn’t seen his family and friends for more than a year.

Furthermore, many families across the globe struggled financially during the pandemic.

“My father lost his job because of Covid …” Expressed Ulanbek Almazbekov, a senior from Kyrgyzstan. “The prices went up since [there were] economic struggles, inflation, [the] cost of living became more expensive.”

Additionally, Gupta’s father, who works in construction, has moved his work online, and his clientele has decreased.

“The amount of money he earned has decreased, which is causing financial stress. Plus my brother also started to go to college, which is another expense,” Gupta explained.

Colleges like the University of Chicago kicked out their remaining international students when the pandemic struck. OWU, however, allowed students with no other options to remain on campus by providing both temporary and permanent housing over the summer.

Around 60 students remained after spring break, and 31 of them were international students. By the time the semester ended, there were only 30 students left, 13 of which were international.

Ohio Wesleyan also offered COVID-19 relief funds and allowed some students to appeal financial aid packages if their circumstances changed.

According to students, not all needs were met, and those who remained on campus were also charged $50 a week.

“I applied for a larger amount [of relief] because of more things I felt were significant expenses that I would have had. Only a tiny bit of what I asked for was given,” Olushola-alao said.

Additionally, finding a job in the U.S. can be challenging for international students. Many apply for an F1 visa, a temporary visa for international students in U.S. universities, and only permits them to apply to jobs within their majors.

It is also a struggle for some majors to find a job with no experience, and some employers are not willing or able to hire international students.

“It’s so hard [to find a job], especially for the past two summers,” Almazbekov noted. “I wasn’t able to find any due to COVID and due to my, let’s say ‘status’ because I’m an international student. Right now, I’m looking for a full-time job, which is really hard. Last semester I applied for like 200 jobs.”

The issue of visas further complicated the situation. Many students were left in the dark between American requirements and the requirements of their home countries.

“My visa has expired. For legal purposes, this is not illegal to be here with an expired visa. Only problem is, you can leave the country but can’t enter again,” Olushola-alao commented. “I’m essentially stuck here … The volatility of the situation at home and here is enough to suspend everyone in uncertainty for the near future.”

In Nigeria, visa renewals are by appointment only, and people have booked appointments through 2024.

COVID-19 has also caused a decline in enrollment of international students at universities across the country, and the closure of many embassies has prevented students from receiving and renewing visas.

Crosby explained, “The enrollments of international students did decrease some because … some students weren’t able to get visas, some weren’t able to get to the United States, some deferred because they felt uncomfortable leaving home, some didn’t enroll because finances changed so drastically because of family circumstances, job losses, things like that.”

COVID-19 has also impacted the grades of international students. Almazbekov worked 80 hours a week last year at two on-campus jobs to ease the financial burden on his family.

Olushola-alao has also had to work more, and the stress of not being able to see his family for so long has harmed his mental health.

Amid the chaos, however, international students have found a silver lining in the friendships they have formed at OWU.

“The experiences I’ve had with the people here are vital to my trajectories further in life,” said Olushola-alao.

Gupta added, “It’s not just the place but also the people that make it, and I found my friends here and I … made the best that OWU had to offer.”

Many international students also expressed gratitude for the personal care provided by the OWU employees. Olushola-alao, for example, was thankful that the chaplain brought him food every one to two weeks from the nearby food banks.

Now that many countries, including the U.S., have eased COVID restrictions, international students' interest in OWU has risen. As a result, there has been a 66% increase in international applications compared to last year. OWU currently has around 95 international students.

“I am really hopeful we will get back to a time when students will be able to get visas more easily, they’ll be able to enter the U.S. and travel around more easily, and that interest in Ohio Wesleyan and studying in the U.S. will still remain high,” Crosby said.

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