‘Not the ideal experience:’ International students face different challenges in past year

US eases travel restrictions for foreign students, ICE also ensures flexibility

Chatwan Mongkol, News Editor

First-year political science major Zahra Murphy has never set foot on Quinnipiac University’s campus. She has been completely remote since her first semester last fall from over 5,000 miles away in Lagos State, Nigeria.

International students have been facing difficulty — from attending classes and getting involved in clubs from different time zones, as well as from travel hassles because many countries imposed travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In terms of academic life, Murphy said the time difference of five hours was difficult to get used to, but Zoom recordings from classes have helped her a lot with the learning. However, that is not the most challenging part for her.

Connor Lawless

As someone who has never been on campus, she said the most difficult part is the social aspect of her college experience and the feeling that she is somehow missing out.

“There’s this social life experience of being on campus that you don’t get when you’re online,” Murphy said. “I can’t even interact with other people my age, I’m just at home focusing on just school, which is not the ideal experience for university.”

Murphy tried to get involved by attending events with different organizations back in the fall 2020 semester, but she said she had to drop everything in the spring 2021 semester.

“It was getting really hard to manage due to time difference,” Murphy said.

Because of the pandemic, Murphy did not graduate from high school until late August 2020, which was too late to travel to Quinnipiac.

She plans to come to campus in the fall 2021 semester, where she hopes to meet people she became friends with in person.

“A lot of people I haven’t seen face-to-face, I only seen half of their body (through Zoom), I don’t even know how they look at all,” Murphy said. “(There were) times they planned outings to go somewhere nearby, and I had to either Zoom in or I can’t attend, which made me feel left out sometimes. So I look forward to interaction with other people.”

Although Murphy is an American citizen, she only lived in the U.S. for a short period of time after she was born, which she said she does not recall. America is new to her, and she is most concerned about discrimination in the country.

“One thing I’m worried about for coming to the U.S. for the first time is mostly about my experiences with others,” Murphy said. “I’m still worried about racism or something like that. It’s not something that’s common here.”

Since March 2020, international students have been able to enroll in college virtually from abroad, take more than one online course and receive I-20, a supporting document for student visa, electronically, which was not the case under normal circumstances for student visa holders. 

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on April 26, that the guidance will remain in effect for the 2021-22 academic year as well.

Even though Quinnipiac will offer in-person instruction as a default for the coming year, international students may still request to be remote through an appeal process.

Third-year 3+1 finance major from Košice, Slovakia, Barbora Hriňáková said the ICE’s extension was a good move since many international students might still prefer staying online from their homes.

Another challenge international students had to face is traveling because of the COVID-19 restrictions. Junior media studies major Gabriela Alvares had to travel through multiple different countries when she decided to travel back to her home in Lisbon, Portugal in May 2020.

“I left Washington D.C., ended up going to Canada,” Alvares said. “From Canada, I went to Germany. From Germany, I ended up somewhere in Portugal and then back home. It was very bad.”

Alvares traveled back to the U.S. in August 2020. She said the trip was complicated as there was a travel ban prohibiting passengers who were non-citizens and non-permanent residents from China, Brazil, Iran, Ireland, South Africa, United Kingdom and the Schengen Area countries without a 14-day quarantine in a third country.

However, the U.S. Department of State announced on April 26, that F-1 student visa and J-1 exchange visitor visa holders are exempt from the restrictions beginning on Aug. 1 and may enter the U.S. within 30 days prior to the start of the academic program.

“I think it would be a good idea because it’s been so difficult for a lot of students to come to the U.S. and finish their degree or for students to travel,” Alvares said. “But I know some countries are really bad (with COVID-19) so I don’t know if (lifting the restrictions) everywhere would be a good idea.”

Hriňáková, who is graduating this year, is excited for the lift since it will be easier for international students to travel, but she hopes the U.S. will extend the exemption to everyone. Because of the restrictions, her family will not be able to travel to her graduation.

“I want my parents to come, obviously it’s kind of sad that they can’t come for graduation now,” Hriňáková said. “I think that’s like a big part of it.”

Although the travel ban is eased for international students, COVID-19 testing is still required for incoming travelers to the U.S. Alvares said since the demand of getting tested before and after they travel is still there, it can be a lot to handle for students who try to come back.