How to stay grounded in a foreign country during COVID-19
The novel coronavirus has disrupted the lives of billions and sent strong economies crashing. There are several challenges that international students in particular face during this pandemic. Yet, there are resources available for international students still on campus that we, as individuals, can use to minimize the negative impact.
I remember hearing about COVID-19 for the first time earlier this year. Little did I know that this small strand of RNA virus on the opposite end of the world would impact my life so greatly. As an international student, I watched the rapid developments of what the world would later refer to as a pandemic closely. I had heard of universities shifting to online courses and dorms shutting down. UTD was now a place that I called my home, I did not know what I would do if I had to move.
Like most other international students, I was conflicted.
I had so many questions. Did I have to go back to my home country? How would I obtain my travel documents? What would the implications be on my visa status in the wake of online classes? I was confused and scared not just because of this disease that was quickly ravaging the planet, but also because I didn’t know what it meant to my career here at UTD, far away from the only home I had previously known in India.
Besides, there was the pertinent question of housing. I happen have close family who live near UTD. However, some international students would not have a place to go if housing on campus, the most feasible option for them, was no longer available. Travelling home to other countries, especially on such short notice is extremely expensive. Besides, countries like India would soon close their borders if they hadn’t already. There was increasing anxiety about the possibility of being quarantined at airports upon or before reaching one’s home country. Additionally, there was the risk of not only contracting the virus whilst traveling, but also spreading it to those — especially grandparents — that live at home.
In my opinion, the response of the university — particularly housing and the International Center — has been quick, efficient and most importantly, compassionate. Had I not had family nearby, my anxieties would have been put to rest by an email I received from the International Center saying that all international students were guaranteed housing. Not only that, they also quickly reprinted important travel documents.
Advising services were quickly shifted to virtual meetings. They sent out emails answering key questions that international students might have. Virtual Career Expos by the Career Center helped students work towards job and internship goals during this difficult time. The UTD Student Counselling Center is also offering virtual calls that can help relieve the additional stress of being far away from immediate family and somewhat alienated in a strange situation like this. Dining Hall West continues to offer boxed meals as well.
While the university has done its best to provide facilities, adjusting to a new normal, for everyone and especially in a foreign land, comes with challenges.
For now, I ask that all UTD students reading this show compassion and empathy towards their international peers. Lend an ear (over the phone, of course) to friends who may be far away from home. In my case, friends have reached out to me, asking me how I am managing and even offering me a place to stay. Even a small text saying that they are thinking of me — and by extension other international students — has been extremely helpful. I know of international students who had to buy expensive flight tickets to return home in the span of less than a week while others are far away from family in a foreign land. As we try to recover from this pandemic, it is a unique immunity that I ask the reader to build. Developing resilience and psychological support as a community — domestically and internationally — is an indispensable weapon in this war we wage against COVID- 19.