More than one million international students are finding their lives at a standstill in cities across the United States amid the coronavirus pandemic. Florida A&M University’s international students are no exception.
FAMU is home to roughly 270 degree-seeking international students, said William Hyndman, the assistant vice president of the International Education and Development Office.
All of these students had to decide to go back to their home country or stay in the U.S. This choice was at risk of border closures that prevented them from leaving or re-entering the U.S. for a prolonged time.
Only about four international students at FAMU chose to go home, according to Hyndman. The OIED informed each of those students to have internet access and to expect travel limits.
“We [the OIED] were concerned and still are concerned, in fact, about them being able to re-enter the United States,” Hyndman said. “We still don’t have a clear sense of what will be happening in the fall.”
A Nigerian agricultural sciences graduate student, Iyanu Farukanmi, says going home was never an option for her because of expensive travel rates and fear of the university re-opening in the fall. The cost of staying in the country was loneliness, she said.
“A lot of students were able to go back to their families,” Farukanmi said. “I don’t have family here. I am on my own.”
For Tolulope Fiola, a Nigerian doctoral candidate at FAMU, this is not the first pandemic she has experienced. With her new routine in Tallahassee, Fiola uses her downtime to craft face masks made of 100% cotton to sell through her Instagram page. Since March, she has created roughly 200 face masks to help reduce the spread of the virus in her local community.
“I lived in Nigeria for over 20 years of my life, so I know what a pandemic is like. A lot of people are scared, worried and depressed with no clue when it will end,” Fiola said.
One of the top concerns the OIED has received from students like Farukanmi and Fiola is making the shift from attending physical classes to receiving remote instruction.
The Department of Homeland Security usually limits international students to only one online course per semester to ensure in-person learning. This policy was quickly relaxed following the arrival of COVID-19, allowing off-shore students to take as many online classes as needed per semester.
New international students are dealing with the challenge of not being able to go to a U.S. embassy to get their student Visa because of their closures. Hyndman worries that this, along with border shutdowns, will limit fall enrollment for first-time in college and first-time graduate students seeking a degree at FAMU or any other U.S. institution.
Though there are no clear solutions for first-timers, global students already at FAMU have resources that have helped them survive during this time.
The university announced the move to remote instruction in the spring. Technology became a significant need, so FAMU offered more than 300 laptops to students and faculty.
In response to food insecurity, the Student Health Services in Foote-Hilyer provides food weekly to students through its food pantry and FarmShare programs.
FAMU also houses a COVID-19 testing site for area residents that has tested more than 8,400 people.
The OIED is working remotely to answer the questions and concerns of international students.
For more FAMU coronavirus updates, visit famu.edu/coronavirus.