Ways U.S. Colleges Support International Students During Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders caught much of the U.S. off guard, but for some international students far from home, it’s been particularly trying.

Some 92% of enrolled international students remain in the U.S. on campus or in another location, according to a survey of U.S. higher education institutions published in May by the Institute of International Education. Many U.S. colleges and universities have stepped up to support international students in various ways as they navigate the new normal.

“I personally feel supported, to an extent, which I’m very thankful for,” says Srinivasa Rao Ippili, a Ph.D. student in the University of Kentucky Department of Mechanical Engineering. For example, he says an emergency wellness fund from the university was helpful in covering his increased utilities costs due to no longer working on campus, and that he also received food items for his pantry.

Here are three ways U.S. colleges and universities are working to support currently enrolled international students:

— COVID-19 testing and free masks

— Remote tutoring

— Pandemic-related counseling

COVID-19 Testing and Free Masks

U.S. university international student health insurance plans typically cover testing and treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. This is true of plans at public schools like SUNY–Geneseo in New York and Texas A&M University–College Station and private schools such as The University of the South in Tennessee.

At the University of Kentucky, “All international students are enrolled in a mandatory health insurance plan, and it covers COVID-19 testing and treatment,” says Sue Roberts, associate provost for internationalization. “The plan covers testing, and if positive, treatment is covered like any other illness.”

Roberts says the school has handed out free single-use masks in the residence halls where international undergraduate students are staying during the summer as well as in graduate and family housing. The university plans to provide personal protective equipment to all students this fall, including international students, she says, through a welcome-back kit that will include two reusable cloth masks among other items.

[Read: 3 Things Incoming Fall 2020 International Students Should Know.]

At Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, the “student health insurance plan is offered to all students, both international and domestic,” says David Rubenstein, executive director of the school’s Health and Wellness Center. “COVID-19 testing and treatment are covered in the student plan, and co-pays are waived for this care,” he says.

Rubenstein says the school provided free procedure/surgical masks to students who were not able to return home and remained on campus for the spring semester.

“When students return to campus, at whatever point, we will be providing masks,” Rubenstein says. Students will get two free washable cloth face coverings.

Remote Tutoring

In the spring, most U.S. college campuses closed to contain the spread of the coronavirus and transitioned to online learning. That in turn led many schools to move tutoring and English as a second language help online to assist international students.

For example, the University Learning Center at New York University is offering both U.S. and international students free online tutoring via Zoom, a popular videoconferencing tool, including in the summer. International students should check with their individual school about offered resources as some tutoring and ESL services may require a fee.

[Read: U.S. College Tutoring Centers Help International Students.]

At Emory University in Atlanta, “Tutors who specialize in working with nonnative English speakers continue to support students remotely and provide online assistance. They offer appointments at varying times to accommodate students living in different time zones,” says Laura Diamond, assistant vice president of communications and public affairs.

She says the free tutoring services are available to students, regardless of their location, for summer and fall classes.

When the University at Buffalo–SUNY in New York transitioned to online instruction in the spring semester, both the non-credit Intensive English Program and credit-bearing ESL program did so as well, “so international students could continue their English studies, whether they were here or back in their own country,” says John Wood, interim vice provost for international education.

Deborah Méndez Wilson, a spokesperson for the University of Colorado–Boulder, says the school is offering academic support individually or in groups for international students, in and outside the U.S. “who need help with taking all classes online and other academic issues caused by the COVID-19 changes.” She says the school’s International English Center offers ESL tutoring to international students for an additional fee.

Pandemic-Related Counseling

Schools are also providing counseling for international students dealing with loneliness, stress and anxiety related to the coronavirus outbreak and stay-at-home orders. For example, the University of Southern California has a weekly 30-minute Let’s Talk: International Student Edition, an opportunity to spend time virtually with a clinician from USC Counseling and Mental Health.

Ippili says an increase in the cost of utilities like electricity and internet and a lack of opportunity to look for additional employment on campus have made him more anxious.

“The stress level has gone a lot higher,” Ippili says. He says he attended a webinar hosted by the University of Kentucky’s counseling center staff that mentioned available remote therapy sessions for international students and addressed ways to fight depression.

[Read: How College Students Are Managing Coronavirus Stress.]

When the school closures began, Ippili says he was initially worried and faced financial uncertainty as an international graduate student due to a reduction in pay for research assistant and teaching assistant positions. However, he says he was relieved to learn last week via email that the university will continue to fund all graduate students who are in such positions.

To better support international students, Monica Ng, director of counseling and psychiatric services at CU–Boulder, says her office has referred them to mental health and wellness services in their own countries and developed videos on eating disorders, multicultural issues and other health and wellness issues that are accessible to students anywhere in the world. Méndez Wilson says the university also offers nonclinical, informal consultations with a counselor via e-Let’s Talk, a free telehealth service.

“If the international student is still in Colorado, we provide virtual walk-in sessions, individual therapy, group therapy and support to address some of the COVID-related issues such as racial discrimination, decisions about staying or going home, fear of not being able to return after leaving the country, worrying about COVID impacting their families in their home countries, etc.,” Méndez Wilson says.

Texas Global, which serves as the international office for the University of Texas–Austin, has partnered with the school’s Counseling and Mental Health Center to offer webinars for international students on coping strategies to help navigate isolation and manage stress caused by the pandemic, says spokesperson J.B. Bird.

Apart from pandemic-related counseling, he says the school’s overall support for international students has also included offering career support and food and emergency housing assistance, as well as advising on changing immigration policies and procedures.

“Texas Global is working across colleges, faculty and with partners abroad to maintain students’ academic continuity,” Bird says.

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Ways U.S. Colleges Support International Students During Coronavirus originally appeared on usnews.com

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