November 26, 2020

International students face new challenges due to COVID-19

Yasmin Khan was one of the many students at Webster that felt displaced after the closure of on-campus housing. She was tasked with making the decision of returning home with only a suitcase of belongings or pleading with the university for one of the limited rooms available overnight. 

Khan decided to withdraw from the Webster Groves campus four months later. 

Webster University invited students back to campus for the first time since March 2020 no more than two weeks ago. Unfortunately for some international students like Yasmin Khan, there will be no returning to campus.

Khan was one of the many students at Webster that felt displaced after the closure of on-campus housing. Overnight, she was tasked with making the decision of returning home with only a suitcase of belongings or pleading with the university for one of the limited rooms available. 

“In about 30 hours, I packed my bags and got onto a flight back to Geneva,” Khan said. “I left all my stuff in St. Louis and got no help from the university.”

 Four months later, Khan decided to withdraw from the Webster Groves campus. 

“It seemed every day was another slap in the face…travel bans, ICE threatening to take our visas away, no one at the university having clear answers…” Khan said.

Obstacles piling up along the way ultimately led to her choice to not return to St. Louis. Her frustrations with the university stemmed from what felt like a lack of support. 

“I am very proud to be a Webster student and I believe Webster is special because it genuinely values its students, but this process did not make me feel valued,” Khan said. “I understand that these are notoriously unprecedented times, but to me, it’s disappointing on a really profound level that there was such limited flexibility and support offered to me.”

Khan is not the only international student to express disappointment in the university. Student Kezia Onsang has to remain home in Indonesia for at least the fall semester. She is supposed to graduate in May 2021, but complications with classes may make this a difficult goal to reach.

“I have three in-person classes that I’m required to take this semester in order to graduate on time,” Onsang said. “Some professors do make accommodations to join online, but some don’t due to technical difficulties.”

Onsang is unable to attend in-person classes due to travel restrictions in Indonesia. She has experienced multiple flight cancellations and has no other way of returning to the US. One of her biggest frustrations right now is communicating with the university about her options as an international student.

“I cannot find any specific information regarding international students, like how are they going to accommodate international students during the pandemic,” Onsang said. “Even in the COVID task force there’s none.”

Both Khan and Onsang agree that the lack of information reported to international students was detrimental to their experience with the university. Colette Cummings, Director of Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs (MCISA), noted that there are resources available to international students seeking information. 

“We work closely with members of the International Student Success Committee to make sure that all international students have the most up to date information on any federal changes that may impact their studies,” Cummings said. “In addition, the department also creates and distributes a newsletter to all international students every other week.”

Khan and Onsang reported not receiving a newsletter from MCISA recently. Despite this, Onsang said that the university was proactive in helping her sort out her particular situation. 

Ah Nhat Mai, international student, feels that the university provided her with ample resources during the pandemic. When the school shut down in March, Mai was granted the ability to remain on campus. This was only offered to select students. 

“I didn’t return home during the entirety of the pandemic,” Mai said. “I stayed in St. Louis during the whole pandemic, but I moved out of campus after last spring semester ended.” 

Mai made the decision to leave her on-campus housing after hearing the university was allowing students from other states to move into the dorms. Despite the concern for her safety, Mai is content with how the university handled her particular situation. 

The university was not able to grant housing to every displaced student during the pandemic.

“We are the ones that’s affected the most by this,” Onsang said. “If Webster prides itself in being a global diverse campus, prove it to us.”

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