The Education Abroad exchange student program is regaining momentum as university proceedings begin returning to normal, with 21 new foreign exchange students choosing to attend UTD for the spring semester.
While, according to the Education Abroad office, the program usually entertains almost 40 exchange students each spring, the current amount is still significant compared to last semester, which had only one student.
Marketing and international relations junior Isabel Santero, an exchange student from Spain, was originally supposed to arrive on campus in the fall when she received notice that UTD was deferring her enrollment due to the pandemic.
“I went through the entire process,” Santero said. “I had sent them my grades, my application, all that stuff, but I think it was in May or June when they sent me a letter saying ‘you are still enrolled but you can’t come in the fall’ and I could either defer or cancel.”
Though the pandemic is still ongoing, she and others chose to follow through with their plans to study at UTD. Santero said that coming to the U.S. to study was a big opportunity and that despite COVID-19, she didn’t want to lose this chance, knowing that she was old enough and mature enough to exercise caution. Strategy and innovation graduate student Lukas Kahr, an Austrian exchange student, chose to attend for similar reasons.
“This was my last chance before graduating this year to attend a program like this,” Kahr said. “I also heard that some of my courses are face-to-face, which was kind of a motivation because I knew my university wouldn’t do face-to-face courses.”
Kahr said that before the pandemic, he had been excited to support events on campus and experience a basketball game, as well as attend Welcome Week. He said he also wanted to meet UTD students, experience the local culture and explore what activities the area has to offer.
“Our COVID-19 test was our welcome gift,” Kahr said. “But it’s a lot better than I thought. My face-to-face course, even though I only have one, is quite interactive, which I really like, and I’ve definitely met some people through it. And there are a lot more things open. I didn’t expect restaurants would be open or in general that you could do that much, but there are not as many restrictions as I thought.”
Assistant Director of Education Abroad Andrea Diaz said that welcome events are usually held for exchange program students to walk around campus, see students and immerse themselves in the culture.
“It was around this time last year that we took a group of students who were here to Fort Worth and they saw the stockyards and things like that,” Diaz said. “But those things, of course, are impossible right now. I’m hoping that we can put that back in in the fall semester when things start to look more like normal.”
Santero said that interacting with more local Americans in person would have greatly benefited her English skills. Although online learning is not her preferred instruction mode, she said it’s been easy to adjust.
“The good thing is I have the recording,” Santero said. “So I can access it anytime. Because sometimes, I cannot follow the conversation with the teacher. With the recording, I can see the translation they’ve got, and it helps me understand better. But yes, I do think I’ll miss the campus environment and going to classes with everyone.”
Both Kahr and Santero said that being able to interact with more local students would help them immerse into American culture. However, they have found a group within their fellow exchange students after being introduced to one another through orientation and joining a Facebook group.
“It’s really cool that we can hang out often, and we’re such a big group,” Kahr said. “We just got a car together, so now we can explore Dallas together even more. I feel really good, and it’s been great so far.”