Pandemic challenges international students at UWRF

Posted December 12, 2020

International students enrolled at UW-River Falls had to decide if they would work from their home countries or stay in the U.S. this fall. The pandemic brought about many challenges and experiences regardless of the decision.

In a typical year, UWRF has between 120 and 140 international students who are degree-seeking and exchange students, according to Vanessa Luther, the coordinator of International Student and Scholar Services. This fall there are 45 degree-seeking students enrolled, eight of whom are graduate students. The university does not currently have any exchange students.

One of the graduate students enrolled at the university is Priya Chaudhary. Chaudhary is from India, and came to UWRF last year to pursue her master’s degree in computer science. She is currently living in the dorms on campus, and works as a resident assistant.

The UW System Board of Regents recently approved an increase in tuition, which means the computer science graduate program Chaudhary is in will see a 9.33% increase in cost. Chaudhary said she is paying most of her tuition on her own, and she has found the increase stressful.

Chaudhary has remained optimistic through the changes, but said, “I sometimes miss my family. It’s difficult. You go through those emotional changes because it is a lot. You’re just stuck in your room. If you go out you can’t interact with a lot of people. But on the other side of it, I’m a strong person. I know how to deal with such things. I just like keeping myself busy to overcome that.”

Twenty students spent the semester working from their home countries. One of them is Hsin-Yu Chang. Chang lives in Taipei, Taiwan, with her parents and brother. She is a senior majoring in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Chang decided to stay home because all of her classes were general electives. She also wanted to get more experience teaching, and found a job at an elementary school near her home back in July.

“My dad wanted me to stay because he thinks it’s dangerous,” Chang said. “Also money concerns because if I go back to America, I need to find housing and spend money on food. Here I can make money and I can sometimes eat at home and not pay for housing.

Chang said the time change has been somewhat difficult, since the city of Taipei is 14 hours ahead of Central Standard Time, though she enjoys online learning and her teachers have been mostly accommodating. Chang works full time teaching while taking four classes.

Junyoung Kang is a senior from South Korea. Kang is studying business management, with a minor in economics. Kang has taken several online courses throughout his college career and said the experience this year was not a hard adjustment for him.

“I wanted to spend this time more busy and more meaningful. Most of the things I do is just online classes and assignments,” Chang said. “I tried several things like studying a different subject that’s outside of school, and I tried cooking and I think I need to do something else.””

Jamal Teymurlu is a physics major from Baku, Azerbaijan. This is Teymurlu’s junior year. He decided to return to River Falls with hope that the pandemic would end during fall semester. He said the online format gives students more freedom, but also requires more self-discipline.

“I was a bit disappointed that we’re paying the same amount, because we are paying to be in the class physically. It makes it harder to ask questions and be involved. Sometimes it does stress you out,” said Teymurlu.

Teymurlu wanted to get an internship this January, but had no luck finding relevant positions. He also said he couldn’t work on campus this year, because the amount of jobs for students was reduced. As an international student, Teymurlu cannot seek employment outside of campus.

Teymurlu expressed concern about the limited amount of food available to students on the meal plan. The campus offers students fixed portions and limited selection. Chaudhary had a similar experience with her meal plan.

“We are paying so much, and those boxes are really small, you can’t get enough food in it for some students. And they’re limited to one drink. Why should we get one drink? If we want two bottles of water we should get two,” said Chaudhary.

Megumi Yokomizo is a senior student who lives off campus in River Falls. Yokomizo is studying agriculture business with an animal science minor. Her classes were all in person or hybrid this fall, but a portion of her semester was moved to the virtual format due to shelter in place orders from campus.

“I think UWRF made a great decision before spreading COVID-19 all over campus, but personally I wanted to go to campus in person,” said Yokomizo.

Yokomizo had friends from past semesters, and didn’t feel too lonely during this time, though she wasn’t able to make new friends.

“I think I could know my friends more because of COVID-19, because of contacting each other and calling and texting. I think it was a good thing. I couldn’t expand but I could know more about my friends,” said Yokomizo.

To stay busy, Yokomizo is volunteering for an internship through a Japanese non-profit organization. She said the internship wouldn’t have happened without COVID-19, because she would’ve had to commute to Minneapolis instead of working remotely.

Yokomizo said UWRF did a good job protecting students.

“One of the reliefs for me is that all students can get tested for free with an ID,” she said. “For international students this was a great thing because I didn’t need to find a new hospital to get tested. I just went to campus and got tested. It’s really organized.”