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International students return to campus after semester spent at home

| Monday, February 8, 2021

Due to widespread COVID-19 restrictions and concerns, many Notre Dame international students were unable to come to campus for the fall 2020 semester. According to Notre Dame International, 138 incoming international students were affected by various COVID-19 complications that didn’t allow them to arrive on campus in the fall.

First-year chemistry major Cecilia Ignacio was one of the students unable to come to campus due to visa processing concerns.

Ignacio, who hails from Manila, Philippines, said she was concerned about applying for a visa and not receiving one due to COVID-19.

“My embassy opened three days before I could leave, so we didn’t want to waste all that money applying for the visa and then not get it,” Ignacio said.

Fellow international student Elysa Ng May May said her embassy continuously cancelled her interview to apply for her student visa.

Ng May May, a first-year biology major, said doing her online classes was complicated by the extreme time difference between South Bend and Jakarta, Indonesia, her hometown. She said balancing her work with her part-time job was also difficult.

“The timings are a little bit off. For example, my chemistry course was at 1 a.m., but then daylight savings time caused it to be at 2 a.m. So, it was very exhausting for me because I also have a part-time job,” Ng May May said.

Ignacio said she also struggled with her time zone difference.

“The time difference is completely opposite, so if it’s like 3 p.m. there, it’s 3 a.m. here,” Ignacio said. “I slept all day, and I was awake all night.”

Many of the incoming international students were able to continue their studies and were part of a group coined the “ND explorers.” Another incoming international student from South Korea, Sandy Nam, explained that the ND explorers had their own sections of on-campus classes they took remotely with others in their same situation.

“One class I took had approximately 12 students in it, and there were about seven classes open for us,” Nam said. “We had no interaction with the other students on campus, but sometimes when I went to office hours, I got to see them because the professors were interacting with other students on campus.”

Ng May May said she also felt very isolated from the campus community, and it was hard to make friends remotely.

“I felt very disconnected with people who are on campus,” Ng May May said. “It was also initially hard to make friends with the other individuals because they were on Zoom. It wasn’t as organic as saying hi to someone in class.”

The ND explorers were only allowed to take three classes last semester because they were classified as non-degree students. Ng May May said this fact made the adjustment period more difficult.

“I honestly feel that so far, the requirements in online school were a little bit lighter. The grading criteria was less complicated than my current courses,” Ng May May said.  “There’s a lot of requirements that I’m still trying to adjust to.”

Nam said over the past semester she has come to really value how online courses can be very convenient.

“I noticed how online classes can actually be so convenient, and really nice. Previously in high school, I thought online classes were so boring,” Nam said. “But when I got into college online classes, it’s pretty smart to do online because you can meet with a professor at any time, anywhere.”

Ignacio said she feels the whole experience has made her more grateful to finally be on campus.

“I was friends with some people who did go to campus. So, I’d see them enjoying and I’d be like, ‘I wish I could be with them,’” Ignacio said. “I’ve seen both sides, and I feel like I can be more thankful now.”

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About Bella Laufenberg

Bella Laufenberg is a junior biological sciences major, who likes news much more than organic chemistry. She is also in the journalism, ethics and democracy minor. At The Observer, she currently serves as the Notre Dame News Editor.

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