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International Students Face Unexpected Challenges

At the beginning of this semester, none of us imagined that something like this could happen to us.  What started as a mild scare, where we saw only a handful of people wearing masks on campus, has now become a national health emergency. Many of us assumed, after Harvard and MIT shut down, that Lesley would also follow the same trend. But that did not happen immediately. Perhaps the delay was because at the time when the decision of those two nearby colleges was announced, Lesley was still on spring break. But that delay had consequences, and it caused a lot of confusion, especially for international students, none of whom knew what was going to happen or whether we should try to go back home while we still could.  I would not want to blame anyone for how the matter was handled in the first place because these are unprecedented times, but I would definitely say that this delay did affect international students a lot. The population of Lesley’s international student community is small, but it is an important group.  I am a part of that community, and I must admit it has been difficult for me to transition from face-to-face lectures and discussions to the world of online classes.

When we first received the email regarding online classes, we were told that, for now, Lesley was online and that the university was hoping to get back to its usual routine before the semester ended. This news came when many other universities had already shut down for the rest of the semester. I did not know what to do, whether to go home to India or to stay in Cambridge.  For someone who would have to travel for more than twenty hours by plane, this was a very serious decision. And there are many other international students, from many other countries, who felt the same way.  After speaking to my family and friends, I made the decision to stay near the campus, as it made more sense at that time. So here I am in my apartment, stocked up completely for the days to come, along with my other roommates, as we wait to see what happens next.

But while I understand why the university made its decision to close the campus, I don’t think I am the only one who has found the transition very difficult. I am one of those people who cannot work from home. I get distracted very easily and cannot sit at one place for a long time. So, to adapt to something like this in a short time has been challenging. I am sure that there are many like me who would say the same thing. When the university was open, there was a routine in which everything was set. I had a specific time to get up, go to classes, study, go to my internship, and come back to my apartment. But now it has all been disrupted. I had to rearrange my room so that I feel I am in a different place. I sometimes go in my living room to study because I get too tired of working from a specific place.  None of us can move out; and every day, we have to get up and stay together in the same house. Of course, we are all trying to make the best of it. We are getting used to this situation, and are working towards making it as comfortable as we can. Professors have been very understanding about our situation.  I was very happy that the university changed the grading system to pass/fail instead of a letter grade, which allows all the students to choose.

But while all students are having to adapt to studying online, international students have another issue: our families are very far from the US and it’s hard to keep in touch with them.  I have my family back in India who are worried sick because now the United States has become number one in confirmed cases of the virus. They are not really happy with how it has been handled till now. I think they saw a clip of President Trump saying that there is nothing to worry about and everything is in control, and then, after a few days, the US became number one. This made them more scared, and now every day I have to touch base with them about what I have been doing to keep myself safe.

In addition, as international students, we have to keep a watch on what is happening in our own countries, some of which have their own problems with this virus.  The government of my country, India, issued a lockdown for three weeks, beginning on the 22nd of March. Because it was not until the 20th of March that Lesley’s students found out we would transition to online classes for the rest of the semester, I didn’t have the time to prepare for what the next course of action should be.  That ultimately left me stranded here. Now all I can do is wait for the lockdown to be over, so that I can finally go back home and be with my family.

But to be fair, it hasn’t been all bad.  Even after all the things which went wrong, there are still things which are helping me and my fellow students to stay positive. In my case, I still have my tutoring job at Lesley; I still have my internship, even though it is now online too.  I miss being in the classroom, but I can still keep in touch with other students.  My professors have been supportive and understanding about the issues which international students are facing, and they are giving us the time to adjust. And that has helped me, as I do my best to get past these tough times.

A family gathering back home in India.

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