Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.
Throughout the past week, University of Richmond students have been going back home to spend the holidays with their families. As we got closer and closer to the last day of in-person classes of the semester, I couldn’t help but think about how much I've grown as a person in the past four months. I’m glad that I decided, and had the opportunity, to travel from my hometown Lima, in Peru, to Richmond for my first semester of college, despite the unprecedented times we are living in.
This transition into college life has been particularly hard for first-year international students. Many of us had to make the difficult decision between studying remotely or in person. Some of us did not even have a choice. Some countries still have their borders closed, and there are personal circumstances to consider, such as financial instability and the health and wellbeing of our families.
I was debating between studying remotely or in person two months before the beginning of the fall semester. Once I got an email from UR about filling out an online form to attend classes remotely, I felt as if I was about to make one of the most important choices in my lifetime. I believe that other international students can relate to this experience.
1: Peru’s borders closed on March 16. At that time, I was still deciding which college to attend, hoping that by the fall semester everything would go back to normal. Fast forward to June: I began to realize that things wouldn’t go back to normal for a while. The borders were still closed, but I could take a repatriation flight. During the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Peru, the U.S embassy arranged special charter flights, or repatriation flights, in order to bring American citizens back to the U.S. I qualified for the flight because of my dual Peruvian-U.S citizenship status, but some non-citizens could qualify as well depending on their urgency for going back to the U.S. After debating for weeks whether I was making the right choice, I finally decided I was going on the flight. I said goodbye to my family without knowing whether I would be able to come back anytime soon. I couldn’t say goodbye to my hometown friends, whom I haven’t seen since February.
The process of boarding a plane during COVID-19 pandemic was scary. At that time, Jorge Chavez International Airport was still closed, so I had to board my flight at a military airport that had been conditioned for repatriation flights going in and out of the country. Everyone who had signed up for the flight met up at a park near the military airport. We were in line for a couple of hours and then boarded a bus that would take all of us to the airport. Saying goodbye to family and friends before going through immigration at an airport is always hard, but it was even worse having to wave from behind a bus window. The situation felt surreal. I’d never imagined that my last memory before leaving for college would be of my parents wearing masks and face shields, six feet apart from each other.
At the military airport, there were volunteers who were in charge of check in, immigration and boarding. The whole process was outside, where some tents with white plastic chairs had been placed. Once we started boarding the plane I noticed that the flight was full. Every seat was taken so no one was really distanced from each other. Most people refused to accept food and beverages to avoid taking off their masks. I wore a mask and a face shield for more than five consecutive hours, which was very uncomfortable. I can’t imagine what the journey must have been like for international students coming from farther away.
Even though the process of getting to UR was exhausting for me, I know that other international students have suffered more than I have. A large number of international students were forced to attend classes remotely for a variety of reasons: problems with paperwork, closed borders and overall uncertainty about the future. Other international students whom I’ve met on campus have interesting stories to tell about their journey here. I feel amazed at how much they have done to get the education they deserve.
The loss of international students on U.S college campuses this year has come with disadvantages. With fewer international students on campus, both students that have resided in the United States their whole lives and international students miss out on opportunities to learn about other cultures and different perspectives. Also, the decrease in enrollment has a great impact on the economy. A Columbia University associate dean estimated about 30% to 40% of international students wouldn’t make it to campus, according to an Aug. 19 USA Today article. This could cost colleges about 400,000 students and a loss of $15 billion, according to the USA Today article.
Like many other international students, I won’t be able to return home this winter break. On top of the pandemic, Peru is dealing with political instability. The Peruvian Congress impeached former president Martin Vizcarra and replaced him with Manuel Merino, who had the position of president of Congress. This decision caused a backlash in the nation. Since Nov. 9, several protests have been going on across the nation, which started as peaceful demonstrations and have turned violent, with many young people injured and dead. The state of my home country upsets me, and I wish that I could be there to see my family and friends. But I realize that my health and education come first.
Every international student here has a story to tell. I think that everyone should be open to finding out more about different cultures and perspectives. The best way to do this is by engaging in meaningful conversations with classmates who come from different parts of the world.
Contact features writer Nicole Llacza Morazzani at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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