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International student orientation smaller than usual as first-years struggle to obtain visas

| Tuesday, August 4, 2020

This year’s international students’ orientation, held on Aug. 1-2, included a number of different events to get international students acquainted with Notre Dame and the U.S.

The orientation consisted of a welcome from Notre Dame International, a presentation from International Student and Scholar Affairs (ISSA) on responsibilities students with an F-1 or J-1 visa should manage, student community-building activities with International Ambassadors and presentations from a myriad of campus resources.

Leah Zimmer, the director of ISSA, said orientation looked a little different this year as a result of the pandemic. While Notre Dame usually welcomes around 350 guests –– including both students and parents –– only about a 100 guests were able to attend this year.

“Because of travel restrictions and the suspension of visa processing at U.S. embassies, far fewer students were able to attend this year,” Zimmer said. “We look forward to welcoming students in the next week, if they are able to get a visa, or in spring 2021 or fall 2021.”

Though classes are set to begin on Aug. 10, Zimmer said some international students have not been able to finalize their plans due to the pandemic. Notre Dame is still expecting the arrival of a number of international students in the coming weeks.

Melanie Benítez, a first-year student from Colombia, was able to move into Pasquerilla West Hall on Aug. 1. However, leaving her country was a complicated process.

“Coming to the U.S., even while being a citizen, was challenging because Colombia’s international borders are closed, which makes traveling way more difficult and expensive,” Benítez said.

For first-year Nicolás López, also from Colombia, arriving to the U.S. was equally challenging. He was able to leave his country through a humanitarian flight offered to U.S. citizens. Even though he found “an easy exit,” López acknowledged other international students might not have his luck.

“Colombia’s borders have been and will remain closed for the foreseeable future and have deprived many close friends of mine from traveling to the States and attending their respective colleges,” López said.

Across the world, a myriad of countries have established flight restrictions in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This reality has hindered student’s plans to pursue an education away from their home countries. In addition, international students have been struggling to obtain visas amid the pandemic.

As a result, Notre Dame announced it was providing first-year international students four different options to complete their education.

In the event that international students cannot travel to the U.S., they can either choose to study away locally, defer for a semester or a year or take “other academic provisions” in which the student can fill out a request form to likely study online from their home country.

The path towards attending Notre Dame might not be clear for several international students. However, despite the difficulties, López, who is pursuing a major in economics, said Notre Dame inspired him to overcome the challenges in his way.

“Although coronavirus, took a rough toll on all of us high school seniors, Notre Dame was always an aspect in my life that encouraged me to push through,” he said. “I hope that coming here will grant me the chance to rediscover myself and make a family of my own.”

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