International students face uncertain future living on campus

Liza Clairagneau ’21. Photo by Jo Tabacek

After the college announced it would move all classes online to help slow the spread of COVID-19, students living on-campus were urged to go home if possible. About 150 students are still living in the apartments or Holmes Hall. According to Associate Director of the Office of International Students and Scholars (ISS) Bridget Flaherty, about a third of them are international students and U.S. third-culture kids (TCKs). 

“(Director of ISS Brian White) and I did what we could to help some students return to their home countries, as well as work with the Overseas and Off-Campus Programs staff to get some of our students back to the U.S. from their programs when they couldn’t go home,” Flaherty said via email. “Our current focus is figuring out who can go home when the semester ends, and who may still need support here over the summer.”

Davit Sargsyan ’23, who is from Armenia, is one of the students still on campus. Sargsyan and numerous other international students are baring through these challenging times while far away from their families. 

Photo courtesy of Davit Sargsyan ’23, pictured above.

Being an international student and living so far from home can be challenging by itself, but with the added stress of a global pandemic hanging over their heads, these students are forced to worry about more than the health and safety of their loved ones. Many of them are left pondering about what they will do once the semester is over.

“My plans for summer are still uncertain,” Sargsyan said via email. “Since I am an F-1 student visa holder I am only allowed to work on campus, so my source of income is not defined for summer, which of course is concerning.’’

Another international student still on campus, Liza Clairagneau ’21, who is from Rwanda, shares Sargsyan’s concerns regarding the upcoming months. What baffles her the most is the duality of the situation in which these students found themselves in, where they have to think of their economic safety in the near future while at the same time worrying about school and tomorrow’s homework.

“No one really knows if there are going to be jobs on campus (during the summer) and all the other off campus internships that I applied for were canceled,” Clairagneau said. “I really hope there’s going to be something because otherwise I don’t know what I’m gonna do with Rwanda’s borders closing … and me traveling back home would put a lot of people in danger.”

Clairagneau and Sargsyan both praised the way Lewis & Clark aided its international students. Bon Appétit, for instance, is still providing carry-out meals for those remaining on campus. 

They were particularly appreciative of how the ISS dealt with the situation. As classes moved online and worries arose regarding students’ visa status, the ISS moved quickly to provide information and keep international students updated with the latest relevant changes pertaining to the immigration policies.  

White, the director of ISS, notified the students of the latest guidelines issued by the authorities. 

“Normally, F-1 students are limited to taking four credits or less of online coursework per semester as part of their full-time enrollment,” White said. “The U.S. Student & Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has announced that it will allow flexibility with that rule due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  We will do the necessary reporting to SEVP to keep you all in good immigration status.” 

For now, these students have their hands full with their academics as the ongoing semester is coming to an end. Even though it is difficult to maintain structure in their daily lives, Sargsyan says they are trying their best to keep their spirits up.

“I am most definitely prioritizing my mental health right now,” Sargsyan said. “So in order to stay in a better mood, I try to call my friends abroad more often, watch more Netflix if that makes me feel good, or find new hobbies, like learning how to play ukulele … I figured that it is important to take care of myself first if I want to succeed in academics in these hard times.”

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