International Students During a Pandemic

There are about 600 international students at GCC. They come to study abroad from their home countries. It is a big decision for them, and they had the courage to come to the U.S. to study abroad. There may be some international students who don’t speak English properly and feel lonely. Even in such a situation, students should be working hard every day to learn English, make local friends, and make their study abroad experience meaningful. 


COVID-19 has changed entire societies. The pandemic closed schools worldwide and has made it more difficult to meet new friends. How does the pandemic affect international students and how does the international student office support them? 


Opportunities for international students to make native friends have decreased because face-to-face instruction has changed to remote instruction. The main purpose of studying abroad for most international students is often to learn and master English by attending classes, meeting new individuals, and immersing themselves in the host culture. However, now that these opportunities are limited, many international students have chosen to go back to their home countries because they can continue remote instruction in their country of origin. About 70% of students study in their home countries. Many foreign students chose to study abroad, therefore, some students quit school and change their life plans for this experience.


There are about one million international students at colleges and universities in the U.S., and they contributed $38.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2019. International students anywhere in the world will always pay higher tuition than local students who are residents. In the U.S., the number of international students sank 16% due to the pandemic in 2020. The sudden decline in international student enrollment has already cost the country $1.8 billion. The tuition paid by international students is the same as usual so far, but it may be more expensive in the future.


A crisis came to international students during the pandemic. The U.S. government announced two options for international students in July. The first option was for students taught in online or remote modalities to return to their home countries. The second option was for these students to be taught by a hybrid model. In this case, continuing students would have had to physically be in the US to maintain F-1 status. Students who wished to remain in their home countries would be able to take online classes, but would not be able to maintain F-1 status (your I-20 record would be closed). However, due to heavy opposition from academic institutions, the guidance was revoked. 


The situation is constantly changing with COVID-19, and the day when international students have to return to their home countries or cannot enter the U.S. may come. Even in such situations, international students are studying for their future.


Reona Iwamoto can be reached at [email protected]