For some international students at Texas Tech, COVID-19 has taken a large toll, with some have not been able to return home due to health concerns since March. Though these students can return to their home countries, there are a lot of concerns.
Richard Porter, director of international student and scholar services at Tech, said international students have the capabilities to return home if they wish. The two-week quarantine is no longer required unless there has been exposure prior to the return to America.
However, Porter said most international students choose not to go home, either because the COVID-19 situation is worse in their home country, or because they are afraid they will not be allowed to come back to America.
“If a student doesn’t already have a visa that’s valid to re-enter, that means they would have to get a new visa to enter,” Porter said.
This is no small feat, as almost all U.S. embassies are closed, Porter said, making it increasingly more difficult for students to apply for new visas.
If an international student who chooses to go home remains a full-time student through distance learning, Porter said they can keep their Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) as active.
SEVIS is operated by Homeland Security and is where information and documents are issued to students, so they can apply for visas, Porter said.
The biggest challenge international students are facing on Tech campus, other than being away from loved ones for an extended period, is lack of in-person classes, Porter said.
“It’s a bit challenging for these students because they didn’t come here to do online courses,” Porter said.
The mental impact of this, paired with students being isolated from their families, is what Porter said led the International Student Life office to initiate programs last spring to assist these students both mentally and physically.
Beth Mora, International Student Life administrator, said in March, it became very clear that international students were going to need a lot of help.
In the spring, International Student Life focused on on-campus students, Mora said. With the help of Volunteer Center of Lubbock, they started with Fresh Meal Friday, a program that provided home cooked meals to international students on campus. The Lubbock community provided these meals, and there was enough to hand out two to three meals per week for students.
“It was a way for us to socially distance but also provide for students in that time,” Mora said.
Additionally, Mora said they provided a food pantry for international students.
At the end of July, the food resources were shut down because campus was open, but International Student Life still is finding ways to help navigate their students through this time of need.
They turned their focus to online programs, Mora said. These programs include a weekly coffee hour and Wellness Wednesdays.
Wellness Wednesdays have included a multitude of events, Mora said. So far, Tech Risk Intervention and Safety Education has spoken about healthy relationships, and the Tech Student Counseling Center has spoken about having hard conversations in a healthy way.
“Those are some things we’re doing to expose those students to culture,” Mora said, “whether that culture is another internationality or something super Texas like line dancing.”
All these events have taken place on Zoom, but Mora said they are figuring out how to do some in-person events.
Additionally, Mora said the culture exchange program is about to begin which will hopefully help these students learn more about American culture and find community while they are in America.
The culture exchange program is the pairing of an international student with a local family, Mora said.
For more information regarding International Student Life and International Student Affairs, visit http://www.depts.ttu.edu/international/ieem/studentlife/global-guides/index.php.