The unexpectedness of living in a COVID-19 era has altered many lives across the country and the world. In particular, there have been specific challenges for our international students. The International Student Office had many obstacles to overcome, and they have given flexibility a new meaning.
One of the primary superheroes in the department is Brooke Fischman. The assistant director of the International Student Office, she handled helping students with the everchanging immigration policies during the spring and summer months. She kept the international students informed throughout this unique year.
When COVID-19 first arose in January, anyone, including the International Student Office staff, never could have imagined that the virus would become anything like it is today. Fischman’s main concern at the time, however, was reassuring and assisting students whose home countries were being impacted at that time.
In March, however, the world as we once knew it shut down, and we entered a world that would then change at a moment’s notice. When Mercyhurst shut down, Fischman began to reach out to colleagues across the country and brainstorm plans if worst-case scenarios arose.
“As a department, our number one concern is always the health and safety of our students, but I was becoming increasingly concerned with what would happen to our students immigration-wise if Mercyhurst went to remote learning. My concern was that due to federal regulation, most international students are limited to one to two online courses per semester. Any more than that and students fall out of compliance, which means they have to leave the country,” Fischman said.
Thankfully, on March 12 2020, the SEVP issued guidance that permitted schools temporary procedural changes, which allowed students the chance to figure something out in terms of remote learning and housing during the now seven-month quarantine. Over the days following the policy, Mercyhurst went fully remote.
From there, the department had to act quickly. During that first week, all of their time was spent planning and making arrangements for the international students to either get home or find a temporary home either on campus or elsewhere.
Once remote learning was in full swing, the International Student Office continued to support their students as they would in an ordinary world, holding meetings via Zoom and Teams.
When the unique semester came to a close, the department went back to work and began to plan for the coming months. When President Victor announced that the campus would open up, the International Student Office devised plans and protocols for any and all situations that may arise.
First, the staff reached out to students to let them know what their options looked like. For students who are unable to be with us in person this semester, they remain online, still maintaining their F1 immigration statuses. However, most international students are safely here on campus with us today.
Many students had difficult financial circumstances as a result of pandemic-related job losses and the unexpected costs of traveling home. Most then had to return amidst confusing immigration policies and to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
That said, for many Lakers, that was worth it in order to return to the Hurst.
“I am delighted to be at Mercyhurst this year for my final year of grad school, as well as coaching the Field Hockey team,” said Applied Intelligence Studies graduate student Libby Riedi. “Being on campus instead of completely remote learning is so beneficial to so many people across the school. I am excited for this year and am incredibly happy to continue being able to work in athletics and get my degree in person, despite being in a global pandemic.”
Reidi returned from Canada to complete her education.
For Alex Nicanor Kenmogne Tayou, a graduate student from Cameroon, the pandemic meant staying on campus.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to go back home because the borders of my home country Cameroon were closed even before the US closed its borders to the rest of the world. I was obliged to stay here on campus throughout the pandemic because I have no close family around. It was a very rough time given that it was my first semester in Erie, however, I managed to get through this and I’m now looking forward to the future,” Tayou said.
Mercyhurst is very grateful for all of the hard work and dedication showed by the International Student Office thus far. We are excited to have many of our international students back on campus with us.