In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, international students faced a lot of uncertainty. Universities across the country had suspended in-person activity to mitigate spread, but this left the students who rely on campus infrastructure — housing, food, income — scrambling to find a Plan B.
Oglethorpe University and its Department of Global Education, worked closely with international students to ensure that their education and, more importantly, safety, were assured throughout the pandemic. Faculty and staff alike were quick to mobilize to assist these students who now faced housing crises, uncertain government policy, unforeseen financial shifts and loss of jobs, all of which took a toll on mental health.
“We’re still adapting to what students need and want most right now,” says Director of Global Education Dr. Marisa Atencio, “We’re always finding ways to reach students individually and build bridges to connect with Oglethorpe resources or in the community.”
In the year since the pandemic forced schools nationwide to temporarily close, Oglethorpe’s response has evolved from triage to robust infrastructure that supports the housing, activities and education of all its students. Now, as the university prepares to resume all in-person activity in Fall 2021, two international students look back on their experiences of the past year and how Oglethorpe University has created a place for them to stay engaged.
Miguel Angelo Zaldana Enea ’23
Miguel Angelo Zaldana Enea is a sophomore majoring in Business Administration and minoring in Mathematics. Originally from Honduras, Enea considered returning home at the beginning of the pandemic, despite the time difference it would present. However, Honduras had enacted a travel ban at the time, meaning that if Enea had gone home, there was no telling when he could come back.
Oglethorpe provided housing and food to Enea and students like him who could not return home. He thanks the Residence Life staff for working to ensure that students on campus had everything they needed during this uncertain time. Health promotion and wellness activities like Mindful Moments and Pause for Paws from Assistant Director of Residence Life Natasha Byrd have also helped him combat the stress and isolation brought about by the pandemic.
Though he admits that he is “Zoomed out,” much like the rest of the world, he is grateful to still be able to attend classes knowing that his food and housing is secure. The pandemic lifestyle has even brought about positive change in the way he engages with his professors.
“Attending office meetings with my professors has kept me on track with my classes,” says Enea, “I used to only go whenever I had a serious question or problem, but now I find myself attending their meetings weekly.”
Now, as an RA on campus, Enea is as involved as ever. With more students on campus this semester, he has helped plan socially-distanced activities for others and is excited to see more activities come fall. As a member of the University Singers, he attends in-person practice where all members wear masks and stand 10 feet apart. Though it is far from normal, Enea looks forward to upcoming performances.
Alex Nukpi ’24
Alex Nukpi is a freshman studying Psychology. During the pandemic, Alex has been attending classes remotely from Kazakhstan. For someone as involved on campus as Nukpi, remote learning can be a struggle, especially due to the 11-hour time difference between Atlanta and Kazakhstan. She reports that she is sometimes up until 5 a.m. working on classes or attending one of the various extracurriculars with which she is involved. Kazakhstan also forbids many sites that Americans take for granted, like Netflix.
However, Nukpi has noted that she is extremely grateful to the faculty and staff at Oglethorpe for working closely with her to stay on top of her work and activities. She gives a shout out to Dr. Atencio as well as Assistant Director of Community and Global Engagement Peter Dye as a huge help to her and other international students.
“They are willing to help out with anything, really,” she says, “It’s super helpful to have people knowledgeable about visa law changes during a pandemic.”
Nukpi is the president of the newly-revitalized OUtlet, an LGBTQ+ organization on campus, as well as the specially-appointed international students representative in the Student Government Association, and the secretary of the Russian Club. She is also a writer for the newspaper and HerCampus. Though juggling this schedule remotely can be difficult, she also notes that her continued involvement in these organizations during the pandemic has helped with her sense of isolation.
This story is the first part of a two-part series.