New Beginnings: International Students during COVID-19
Brissa Campos Toscano - International and Global Studies major with History, Political Science, and Music Minor at St. Mary's University
St. Mary's University has students from a variety of nations and cultures from around the world and across the United States. They are a community essential for St. Mary's growth. Few on our campus know that over 200 current international students at St. Mary's are preparing for a professional and bright future here.
With COVID-19, international students were impacted in several ways. Processes such as getting a visa, studying abroad, or even returning to their countríes became difficult to impossible for these students. Due to that, international students, current and new, faced a significant pause with these unwanted delays.
This exhibition showcases the stories of some international students at St. Mary's University and how this institution brought new resources for them to feel welcome inside the university. This perspective shows the pillars of the Marianist Charism, which St. Mary's has as its core. Knowing more about this community of international students can help understand its resilience and patience in adapting to the current changes in their surroundings. This exhibit reflects on the changes of the university to support the international students' community on campus, and how with the Marianist Charism, we can help the students grow throughout COVID.
International Students' Perspectives
Current or new international students are just coming to the university and returning faced a significant impact when the pandemic arrived. Not only was the relation with the university cut, but also international borders were closed, and foreign relations with the US embassy were delayed. In this section, International Students explain their own experiences and perspectives throughout COVID-19 and their process of getting the necessary F-1 Visa.
St. Mary's University offers more programs byeond just receiving international students. One of them is the Intensive English Program, also known as IEP. In this program, students can improve their English in an immersion program for one semester. Another opportunity is Study Abroad. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, study abroad has to be closed until there is a decrease in COVID cases from the pandemic.
Some of these interviews include undergraduate international students and students in different study abroad programs. These interviews help us understand the experience of international students through their own eyes and how it was to adapt to different changes.
Taking Big Decision in Little Time
When difficult times come, difficult decisions have to be taken. During the pandemic between 2020 and 2021, deferring some students was vital to manage a load of international students asking for visas at St. Mary's. Even though it was a difficult decision, it was essential to take it, and the faster, the better. International Students who were deferred may not have understood it. However, the Center of International Programs tried to be realistic, and deferring them was a way to control the situation and secure space for them in the new academic semester.
New Beginnings - Receiving International Students
After a year of not receiving first-year students and international students in person, the International Students and Scholar Services Office (ISSS) was ready to not only receive international students but to give them a warm welcome. Even though there were some logistical issues, the ISSS Office was always ready to aid international students in any way they needed.
During orientation, international students were provided with information to maintain their visa status and resources to help them overcome the culture shock. During this moment, I got the opportunity to lead this event and plan the International Orientation. It was a delightful experience to feel how excited international students were to start. When I started, I did not have the same opportunity they did to ask someone in person about their doubts. Being a resource and support for them was something I was not expecting, and it is heart-warming that I could make those connections with them. My team hopes to continue receiving more international students and improving the welcome event and orientation in future semesters.
Was it enough? International Office creating new arrangements to receive future international students
During COVID-19, the Center for International Programs at St. Mary's University had various changes which impacted how International Students received information and resources from the university. It was at this moment were the pillar of adaptation and change from the Marianist Charism shined.
During this transition, it was essential to maintain confidentiality and be patient and understanding towards the office and new incoming international students. After a semester of changes, the office is transforming by nominating a new director for the center, Maria Del Mar Aponte. During this time, the office also renewed their system, which contains the database of all the international students. Even though it was a hard time for the office, teamwork and communication were essential in this work. I am happy to work with such great professionals. It is an experience of a lifetime to be part of a team that helps a big community on campus.
Continuing the Marianist Mission
St. Mary's University aims to educate students with quality education and values. International Students are an essential community for St. Mary's growth. Even though different issues have impacted the Center for International Programs, the mission of helping international students become professionals that can impact our community is still alive. After this semester, the Office is ready to receive more than 20 new and deferred students to Spring 2021, having the second in-person meeting after COVID-19 got into our lives. As the new Director of the CIP Office said, this is a time for opportunities to open a new communication path between the international students and the Office and offer them updated resources that can help their well-being throughout their university experience.
As an international student writing this exhibit and a current worker for the CIP Office, I am grateful I had the opportunity to help my people and improve how procedures are made. I hope to continue helping students grow and support them in their first steps to their bright future at St. Mary's University. The only thing that the Office needs is a team that wants to work and do things right to help these students, and after this semester, I think we are going on the right path.
I want to thank Dr. Lindsey Wieck, Professor of the HS3390 course at St. Mary's University, for telling more about my story working in the CIP Office and to help others know about the experience of being an international student.