For some international students at Texas Tech, COVID-19 has done a great disservice, with some having been unable to return home due to health concerns since March. Although these students may return to their home countries, there are many concerns.
Richard Porter, director of international student and scholarly services at Tech, said international students have the skills to return home if they wish. The two-week quarantine is no longer required if there was no exposure before returning to America.
However, Porter said most international students do not choose to go home, either because the COVID-19 situation is worse in their own country, or because they fear they will not be allowed to return to America.
If a student does not already have a visa that is valid for re-entry, that means they will need to obtain a new visa to re-enter, Porter said.
This is no small feat, as almost all U.S. embassies are closed, Porter said, making it increasingly difficult for students to apply for new visas.
If an international student who chooses to go home remains a full-time student through distance learning, Porter said they can keep their Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) active.
SEVIS is operated by Homeland Security and is where information and documents are issued to students so they can apply for visas, Porter said.
The biggest challenge international students face on the Technology campus, other than being away from loved ones for an extended period, is no personal tutoring, Porter said.
It’s a bit challenging for these students because they did not come here to take online courses, Porter said.
The mental impact of this, coupled with students isolated from their families, is what Porter said prompted the International Office of Student Life to initiate programs last spring to help these students both mentally and physically.
Beth Mora, International Administrator of Student Life, said in March, it became very clear that international students would need a lot of help.
In the spring, International Student Life focused on students within campus, Mora said. With the help of the Lubbock Volunteer Center, they started with Fresh Meal Friday, a program that provided home-cooked meals for international students on campus. The Lubbock community provided these meals, and had enough to distribute two or three meals a week to students.
It was a way for us to socially distance ourselves, but also to secure the students at the time, Mora said.
Moreover, Mora said they provided a food pantry for international students.
In late July, food resources were shut down because the campus was open, but International Student Life is still finding ways to help navigate their students in this time of need.
They shifted their focus to online programs, Mora said. These programs include a weekly hour for Wellness Wednesdays coffee.
Wellness Wednesdays have included a host of events, Mora said. So far, Technical Risk Intervention and Safety Education has talked about healthy relationships, and the Technical Student Counseling Center has talked about difficult conversations in a healthy way.
These are some things they were doing to expose those students to culture, Mora said, whether that culture is another internationalism or something super Texas like dancing online.
All of these events happened at Zoom, but Mora said they are discovering how to do some personal events.
Furthermore, Mora said the culture exchange program will begin, which hopefully, these students will learn more about American culture and find community while in America.
The culture exchange program is the pairing of an international student with a local family, Mora said.