The uncertainty presented by the coronavirus outbreak brought a whole different set of challenges for international students studying in the US. When the coronavirus pandemic hit the country in March last year, Bucknell had to shift to remote learning for the remainder of the semester. As an international student I was deeply worried about my academics, my family and whether I should go back home or not. If I decided to stay in the US, I did not know where I would live if the university kicked us off campus. Due to COVID, I could not travel back home so I was literally stuck on campus for the rest of the semester. Even if I could go back to Zimbabwe, I knew I would not be able to receive the same education that my peers were getting due to limited internet access back home. I had no other choice but to stay on campus in a foreign land without my family. Being over seven thousand miles away from home and also being in a deserted unfamiliar place was very hard. I would call my family almost three times a week and hearing their voices and seeing their smiling faces helped me cope with the pandemic.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, I had planned to do research on campus over the summer. I was so excited to study the cultural beliefs and practices of the Shona people of Zimbabwe and how they shape their perspective and experience of Western medicine. When I got an email that all summer undergraduate research programs were going to be cancelled due to COVID, I was devastated. I had to come up with new plans for the summer and I was worried about a lot of things. I was worried about experiencing food insecurity because dining services were closing for the summer break. I was stressing over my housing situation and my finances. As an F1 visa holder, my internship opportunities were very limited so I ended up taking online courses during my summer break. It was fun to take a break from classes but It only lasted for a few weeks. I could not get a job on campus and relied entirely on my family for financial support. During these difficult times, I was really grateful for the University to let us stay on campus and members of the community who were very generous and donated food for students staying on campus.
Being stranded on campus allowed me to make new connections. I connected with some amazing faculty and staff who pitied us for not being able to be with our families during the pandemic. I also connected with other students who were also stranded on campus. We were all unified by the same story. We were all in the US on an F1 visa unable to go back to our countries and be with our families due to the coronavirus pandemic. The support that I received from my friends, faculty and staff really helped me to cope with the pandemic. I picked up new hobbies: running, dancing and playing kalimba. My COVID experience has made me more independent and flexible. I have dealt with loneliness and anxiety and that has made me stronger and more prepared to deal with uncertainty.
The hardest part of dealing with COVID as an international student in the US is not being able to be with our friends and family in our countries. We call and text but we don’t really know how they are doing and they don’t really know how we are doing either. When they call, we smile at the camera and say we are fine. They also do the same but we can see it in their eyes that they miss us and they wish we could be home.