Pandemic forces international students back home, keeps others away

Weiling Yuan, top left, attends a CU class via Zoom from China.

The pandemic has been tough on everybody, but international students have been hit particularly hard.

Asri Syawalia is an Indonesian international student who attended Castleton University spring 2020. Her family could not afford to let her go to the U.S. to study, so she signed up for The Global Undergraduate Exchange Program.

When the pandemic broke out and all classes were switched to online in a rush, she felt a lot of frustration, because she loved having in-person classes, meeting with professors and discussions with classmates.

In addition to the frustration, Global UGRAD forced her to go back to Indonesia before the end of the semester.

“I don’t know how to tell how depressed I was at that time,” said Syawalia. “I was crying every day.”

“I had been waiting for the chance to have an exchange semester in America since 2017,” said Syawalia. “At first, I couldn’t believe that I could have a chance to go to the U.S. because of the competitive selection process for the exchange program itself “

“It was like my biggest dream at that time is to go to the U.S. and all I got was online classes and quarantine,” she said.

But Syawalia wasn’t the only CU international student who had to leave America.

“It was regrettable that I had to leave Castleton before the end of the semester,” said Hiromi Nakatsuka, a Japanese exchange student from Doshisha Women’s College, who attended CU from fall of 2019 to spring 2020.

Weiling Yuan is an international student from China. She is a senior media and communication major.

“I chose to go back to China because Castleton has started the online class. My parents were also very worried about me. I was afraid that the United States’ epidemic would make it hard for me to return to China, so I decided to go back,” Yuan said.

She said it has been frustrating that she cannot go back to Castleton. Since China is 13 hours ahead of Castleton, she has been forced to stay up late to take online classes.

“Staying up late has a great impact on the body. Life and rest are actually chaotic, and sometimes the body feels unwell,” she said with a frown.

COVID has also affected Castleton’s ability to host more international students from outside of the U.S., said Adrienne Matunas, a coordinator of the Pathway Program for English Language Learners.

“We usually welcome girls from Doshisha Women’s College in Japan, but they have not been able to come this year because of the pandemic,” Matunas said.

In spring 2020, a lot of international students were trying to decide what they were going to do in the chaos they confronted. Many of them were trying to figure out whether they should stay or leave.

“It was not easy decision to make since no one knew at that time how long it goes or what the safest option was,” Matunas said. “Being able to travel was extra challenge for international students.”

However, Matunas also pointed out the good sides of what this pandemic created among the International students.

“Sense of community among International students living on campus really grew, because they are in it, experiencing the same thing,” she said with a smile. “I think they are great support for each other. This pandemic is really the first event in our lifetime that has affected every single country in the world. This is really showing the importance of language learning, learning to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds, because this is how we fight the pandemic,” Matunas said.

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