By Sarah Knickerbocker
Being in a foreign country can have its challenges, but on top of that, Minqi Kong, a media studies, journalism, and digital arts major from the town of Wenzhou, China, had to worry about the COVID-19 pandemic once it infiltrated the United States.
“I first heard about coronavirus when I was here [SMC], and I was really worried about my parents, but now they are more worried about me,” said Kong ’23. She has spent the past seven months in the U.S. during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kong, who is inspired by Japanese anime and shows, aspires to be a creative film director in China.“I came here to study and learn English, but because of COVID-19 it’s so difficult to talk to native speakers in person.”
Kong’s family couldn’t help but be worried about her safety living on SMC’s campus this fall with thousands of students in close proximity. “At first, my parents were so happy when we were getting tested and that there weren’t any cases. But after that campus outbreak, they are really worried about me and want me to go home,” said Kong, who is currently with her aunt and uncle in New York City. She plans on flying home for break and is uncertain about what the spring semester will look like for her.
COVID-19 has greatly limited the college experience, especially for international students like Nahoko Sugimoto, an international relations and environmental studies double major with a keen interest in food system policies. She’s from the rural town of Kumamoto, Japan, and enjoys watching dramas, horseback riding, and drawing.
“It’s really hard. I think that it’s not only because of the COVID-19 situation but everything that comes with the new semester. Some of my Japanese friends aren’t here because they transferred or went back home,” said Sugimoto ’23. St. Michael’s has been struggling with enrollment for several years now and COVID-19’s restrictions on travel have not helped the international student population on campus.
“One of the first things I learned after coming to America as an international student is how hard it is to live as a minority, Sugimoto said, “I’m from Japan and almost all people are Japanese and I never realized that I’m one of the majority in Japan. So I feel like I really should get to know the minorities in Japan and how they are suffering from the pressure of the Japanese people and culture.”
Ethan Li is an art and media studies, journalism, & digital arts double major at SMC from the city of Wuhan, China. When not in the classroom, Li is usually studying at his Winooski apartment or working in his art studio on north campus. He said COVID-19 has affected his ability to learn especially after transitioning to completely virtual classes.
“Our first MJD class last year was great. We got to talk and discuss, but now we’re just sitting there with masks and I can’t see anyone’s face,” said Li ’22.“This is the first semester that I haven’t made any new friends.”
Ethan is still three semesters away from graduating but is already worried about the virus interfering with that plan. “COVID-19 has made traveling so challenging and my parents really want to come to my graduation next year, but I don’t know if that will happen,” Li said, adding that he is trying to stay as optimistic as possible about the future, and “hopes the vaccine will come quickly and stop this pandemic.”
“I try to read a lot of books out loud so I can be speaking English,” said Baimaji, a biochemical and statistics double major from China.” During the summer, one of the books was written by a holocaust survivor and compared to her story, mine is like nothing. I feel grateful to be born in a relatively peaceful time,” said Baimaji ’21.
Baimaji is living on campus this break to guarantee her attendance at her long-awaited commencement in the spring. After graduating, Baimaji hopes to explore a more urban area in the U.S. and study public health. She’s been in Vermont throughout the whole pandemic and has spent a lot of time by herself.
“Being in a foreign country during a pandemic is definitely challenging; sometimes it’s lonely or I get homesick, but you know there are things you have to get through in your life and for me, this is one of them. I hope this whole experience can make me a stronger person.”
“COVID-19 is so awful in Panama City, they’ve all been in quarantine since March. For me, being away from home for so long is stressful because I have my duties here as a student, but my mind is there worrying about them,” said Jose Aldahir Ortega, a graduate student getting his degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages. He is a teacher at an elementary school in his beloved home of Panama City, Panama.
COVID-19 restrictions have made his job as a student even more difficult. “I’ve never done online classes before in my life. I feel like I have twice as much work online to generate an online discussion,” said Ortega, “I miss the classroom and to have that cultural exchange with my peers from other countries who are also taking the course. We usually talk before and after class which was really nice but then it completely changed.”
Ortega’s experience has taught him many lessons about himself and life in general. “I feel like I have to separate my feelings and emotions from my duties on campus which has helped make me more independent and mature,” he said.