International Students Face Unique Challenges Ahead of New School Year

Local universities are supporting international students after a worrisome summer leading up to the start of school

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As universities and colleges plan to reopen in a few weeks, international students are experiencing unique challenges.

At some campuses, programs have been cut in half due to travel restrictions.

Those who remain face uncertainty about visas and their place in a society far from home.

UT Dallas -- which has one of the largest populations of international students in the country – said they are supporting them and helping them remain on track.

“UT Dallas is committed to all of our students and greatly values those who choose to come to the United States for their education. We will support our international student community and make sure they have resources they need to have a successful academic semester,” the school said in a statement.

Other campuses are doing the same, after what has been a very nerve-wracking summer leading up to the start of school.

"I know it can be a very hard time for everybody right now,” said Dongxue Tan of Dallas Baptist University.

When we last spoke to her in February, she was watching the novel coronavirus ravage her native China from afar.

"It just got so bad in China and I was worried about my parents,” she recalls.

Now, the years are adding up since she has seen her family. She spent nearly three years earning her masters at DBU and was hoping to see them in March for a planned visit. However, she was forced to cancel the trip and hunker down as the virus spread across the world.

"My family is very understanding, they know the situation is bad. They have been prepared that they probably won't see me in the following two years,” she said.

Ever since, many other students flew home and now are unable to come back due to travel restrictions. But Tan is now using her skills to help others.

DBU hired her on as an admissions counselor to guide those students abroad into a fall semester online.

"They’ve been so supportive and considerate," she said. "I really admire that about DBU as a school, that they’re so caring and loving to everybody during this hard time."

She helps coordinate with students abroad, especially Chinese students, as they prepare for their virtual classes from afar. Last school year, there were about 600 international students at DBU, with about 200 students hailing from China.

"At the beginning of the summer, all of them were so confused on how they were going to finish their education. So we get to communicate with everybody, passing out information to them,” she said.

Roland Ye is an environmental science major from Burkina Faso.

"Being far away from my family was a difficult time,” he said. "I'm glad with technology, we're still able to talk and see each other on video call."

With graduation just around the corner, he decided to stay and not risk his degree.

"I was thinking about going back home but at the same time, I was wondering because I needed to renew my student visa. It's better to stay here because we don’t know how this thing is going on,” he said.

Those visa uncertainties have added to the stresses for these students.

Last month, the Trump administration threatened deportation of international students with F-1 or M-1 visas if they took online courses only and were not enrolled in any in-person classes.

After widespread backlash and lawsuits from states and schools like MIT and Harvard, that order was rescinded in mid-July.

"Those students have chosen to come to a place like DBU and the other universities here in the Metroplex, which also have large populations of international students," said Dr. Jay Harley, student affairs vice president at DBU. "It affects and impacts those students. They hear those things and it does cause higher levels of anxiety, nervousness and fear."

Dr. Harley said they have been working hard throughout the summer to take care of international students who decided to stay and continue their education in the U.S.

"It does impact students who have taken a big financial and maybe personal risk to come to the U.S. They've put their lives on hold in their home country to come study," he said. "Even in the midst of a pandemic, what can we do to serve and help students? That's the mindset we try to have."

DBU worked with local churches to provide free meals and even kept housing open throughout the pandemic. Special care will continue throughout this new school year to make sure no one is left behind in their studies.

“It takes a lot of care and individual conversations on our part to work with those students and reassure them that the universities here for them,” he said. "Students have anxiety. They're concerned. But yet, they want to be in class, they want to keep moving forward."

UT Arlington is anticipating around 3,000 enrolled international students for the fall term. About 600 international students will remain overseas and take courses online.

“UTA has been working with all of our international students on a case-by-case basis to make sure they have access to the classes they need. We’re doing all we can to minimize the impact of the pandemic, evolving federal guidelines and travel restrictions so that our international students can continue to pursue their degrees. For the first time, we are offering online courses for international students who choose to remain in their home countries for the fall term,” the university said in a statement. “As one of the nation’s most diverse campuses, UTA benefits in countless ways – socially, culturally and intellectually – from our international students. We are committed to ensuring they continue on their paths toward academic success.”

UNT is also showing immense support for its international student population. According to the school newspaper, there are currently 2,500 international students attending UNT from 141 different countries.

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