International students face COVID-19 challenges

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Many challenges arose throughout the pandemic for international students who were thousands of miles from home while trying to leave the California Baptist University’s  campus in spring 2020. Over a year later, international students are still facing difficulties as many of them have yet to return home.

Georgia Dale, senior marketing major, has not been back to her home in Australia in 15 months because of the pandemic. Although given the opportunity over the summer, travel costs would have passed $10,000 just to get back to Australia.

“Obviously the experience of college as an international student changed dramatically,” Dale said. “When you move overseas it is pretty nerve-racking in itself but once the ability to simply go home and get on a direct flight back to your designated country (is taken away), we don’t really have the novelty of that anymore.”

When CBU shut down in March 2020 due to COVID-19, other international students were forced to go home and wait for information on when they could return to the U.S. and CBU.

“When I came back from Australia a year ago now, I was really nervous about getting COVID-19, and what if something really went wrong and I had to go into the hospital?” Dale said. “It ended up happening, believe it or not, because I had COVID-19 and had to go to the hospital. My worst nightmare came true. I was really scared to come over here because, if something bad happens, my family cannot come over here and I cannot get back. That was pretty overwhelming.”

Courtney Watson, director of International Student Services, said the International Student Service Center is in place to help students feel integrated into both CBU life and American culture.

“We want to be a place where all international students can come for help, immigration advising or just to hang out and get connected here at CBU,” Watson said. “My role at CBU is to be the point of contact for international students for a wide variety of needs, and to be their advocate across campus.”

One of the biggest challenges the International Student Service Center has faced has been getting students back into the country to start or continue their education at CBU.

“Countries have all reacted very differently to the pandemic, and some have become stricter about allowing their citizens to travel internationally, so many prospective students have had difficulties being issued travel visas, even for educational purposes,” Watson said. “Many students have also expressed worry about being away from their families during this time.”

The number of international students coming to CBU in 2020 was greatly affected by travel restrictions and continues to waver as restrictions change.

“It was a drastic drop,” said Amanda Low, junior chemical engineering major. “People who were supposed to come could not come. So, either they were stuck at home or doing school remotely from home. The numbers are pretty much back to normal, but students were getting detained at the airport for a few hours for questioning and students who could not get their visas were stuck at home. Especially if they were first-year students, it was more of a challenge.”

Low is a programming intern with the International Center and an international student from Malaysia. Low recently went home to Malaysia during the summer for the first time in two years after she was unable to travel during the summer of 2020.

Watson and Low said one of the biggest resources in place for international students during this time has been the staff at the International Student Service Center (IC).

For new students this year, the International Center organized an orientation where they went over the culture shock, life at CBU, InsideCBU and Blackboard. They also take them to and from the airport,  take them to Target and have T-mobile come to campus.

“CBU’s International Center is made up of staff members who love international students, and many of us have lived outside of the United States ourselves, so we can relate to being in a culture different than our own,” Watson said. “We are quick to make time for students, get to know them and celebrate their culture and walk through challenges and victories with them. It is our hope that no international student would think of us as strangers, but would consider the IC a second home here at CBU. If international students are looking for resources, please come find us.”

One of the main ways CBU aided international students was through providing housing during the summer of 2020 and 2021 if students were unable to return home.

“In the summer of 2020 we sent a few surveys to our students to gather information on how they were feeling in relation to international travel, returning to CBU, etc. so we could gauge how to help them prepare for their return to CBU,” Watson said. “We also reached out individually to students who we knew were unable to return to their home countries and may be struggling with being away from family. As soon as it was safe and responsible, we made our office open again for students to come in as needed for advising appointments or personal check-ins.”

Outside of the housing services provided by CBU, Dale and Low said they felt not much was done to assist international students during the pandemic.

“School provided summer housing, but that was pretty much it,” Low said. “It sucked because they only had Wanda’s open for food pretty much every day of the whole summer. I honestly cannot think of any other resources.”

“CBU helped us out — they helped me out as I am in athletics here,” Dale said. “They made it really easy for me to get housing over the summer. The school allowed me to work. They gave me some job opportunities so I could fill my time over the summer. But to be really honest with you, CBU was not really helpful at all.”

Dale said that CBU could have done a better job communicating to students during the pandemic.

“(It would have been helpful if CBU) just communicated more regularly and, for international students, was more honest and realistic about what a COVID-19 year was going to look like,” Dale said. “I think making more of a community-oriented environment that really ensures people safety (would have helped). COVID-19 so often is not disregarded, but it is like, ‘Oh, you got COVID-19, you are just another person in the system.’ Overseas, things are treated very seriously, so a bit more security would have been nice.”

“I think the International Center is quite beneficial but there is only so much they can do,” Dale said. “We need assistance from academics, from professors and Housing Services.”

For more information on the International Center and how to get involved, whether as an international or domestic student, visit the International Center’s Instagram @ cbu_ic.

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