Graphic by Jacob Fulton
Being an incoming international student comes with its challenges, from potential culture differences to starting college farther away from home than most peers. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated circumstances, creating a situation that is even more strenuous than the typical year’s.
On July 24, U.S. Immigrantion and Customs Enforcement announced that any incoming international student would not be allowed to stay in the United States if their coursework is entirely online. The announcement came after ICE redacted a previous ruling that any international student taking entirely remotely classes would not be allowed to remain in the country.
Due to the pandemic, some consulates around the world are currently closed. Some students had to push their visa interview appointments back by weeks or even months due to the rapidly evolving circumstances. In addition, U.S. consulates in some countries are currently not giving out visas, which makes it virtually impossible for many incoming international students to obtain an F-1 visa now.
Whether you are or are not able to make it to campus in time for Fall Quarter, do not fret, as student organizations and the Office of International Students and Scholar Services have been putting together resources and events that will be accessible to international students regardless of physical location.
The International Students Association and OISS have also been working together to provide “resource-based information events” and social events for international students once the school year begins, Weinberg junior and ISA co-president Sana Kharbanda said.
For starters, the International Student Orientation, which takes place prior to Wildcat Welcome, will be offered entirely remotely. In addition, the programming will be offered across a variety of time zones to accommodate students, Kharbanda said.
It is unclear exactly how ICE’s July 24 update will impact incoming Northwestern international students, but you should reach out to your OISS advisor (and even your international peer adviser) for recommendations as to what course of action to pursue for Fall Quarter.
ISA, a student-run organization, has been active on Instagram, providing updates that pertain to the international student community.
This upcoming academic year, ISA aims to provide resources that are not offered by the University, according to Kharbanda. For example, the student group will distribute resource guides focusing on topics such as course recommendations, financial resources and mental health resources. ISA also plans to host dialogues and workshops regarding professional topics, such as job- and internship-searching from an international student’s perspective.
“What we’re looking (for is) to provide that level of support in any way that we can,” Kharbanda said. “We know that…students tend to have a lot of questions, so we want to be able to address those because we have members in our organization who (have) been (through) these processes and are willing to provide that level of mentorship as well.”
In addition to connecting with peers through ISA and nationality-based student organizations, upperclassmen international students recommend — safely! — mingling with students in other student organizations and, if you live on-campus, who live in your dorm. Due to the restrictions on large-scale gatherings, it is likely that many events will be hosted online. However, don’t force yourself to socialize virtually if you find it too strenuous.
“Put yourself first,” Kharbanda said. “If you think that you don’t want to put yourself in that position, and you think you feel weird about going to these online events, that is also totally fine because once you get back into the normal groove of things, it’s not like everyone (already) made their groups and you’re going to be missing out. I don’t think it’s going to be like that at all.”
As for academics, incoming and transfer students are not expected to register for Fall Quarter classes until Wildcat Welcome. The Daily previously reported that at least 46 percent of undergraduate class spots are expected to be entirely remote. For international students who will be taking fall classes from their home countries, upperclassmen international students recommend considering the types of classes to take, such as the mode of delivery or the class size.
“I would advise against taking discussion classes because…discussions tend to be really stimulating,” Kharbanda said. “If you aren’t able to attend those, then I think you’re missing out on a big learning part of the class. I think it would be a smart move to lectures right now rather than discussion classes.”
Kharbanda said she took her Spring Quarter classes from her home in New Delhi, India, which has a 10-and-a-half-hour time difference from Evanston. She said her professors were “lenient and understanding about attendance” due to the time difference, all lectures were recorded and there were multiple teaching assistant sections to accommodate the different time zones.
Some international students are planning on staying in their home countries for at least Fall Quarter. McCormick freshman Isaac Winoto said he chose to stay home in Jakarta, Indonesia due to the increasing number of cases in the U.S. and the current political climate.
He said that the four other Indonesian incoming freshmen — three others of whom are in McCormick — have made plans to take similar classes and study together to create the feeling as if they were on-campus.
Given the impact of the pandemic on the academic plans of international students, Winoto said he thinks the University should provide a “mini-orientation” when the majority of the incoming international students are able to come to campus. He also praised NU for already hosting an informative panel for international students regarding the latest developments.
“I think the University has taken steps that are really informative for us — the international students,” Winoto said. “Also, knowing a lot of international students might not make it to campus this fall…we also had breakout games (for bonding after the main talk).”
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— ICE says newly enrolling international students cannot come to the U.S. if taking entirely online courses
— Defining Safe: International students discuss stereotypes, adjusting to American culture