International students have seen their options to study in the United States dwindle last year as the pandemic hampered operations on international programs. Despite the difficult start, long-term benefits emerged.
The pandemic forced all classes, clubs and activities to go fully online last school year, including the University of Asia in America (AUAP) and English as a Second Language (ESL) program. At first, this caused problems for international students who had to either return home or adapt to a new style of learning.
However, despite the initial problems caused by the pandemic, moving online has helped expand many of the CWU’s international programs.
“I can visit multiple countries a day or within a week,” said Stacey Soedström, associate director of International Student and Scholar Services. “[We can] Recruit in places that we do not normally recruit and receive students from.”
Changes with AUAP and ESL
According to Soderstrom, CWU has had a steady number of international students since 2019, but programs aimed at helping them financially and facilitating personal learning have had success. One such program sees the Department of State sponsor up to 10 international students to study abroad at CWU annually. Last year, that number was zero due to the pandemic. This year, seven students were sponsored by this program, according to Soedström.
Another program, AUAP, had to go online. Before the pandemic, AUAP students would come to CWU for five months and then go home, unable to return to take more AUAP classes. This has resulted in many students losing the English language proficiency they gained during their stay, according to Nikki Kokar, director of AUAP, International Student and Scholar Services.
Now that the program is online, they can take several classes and continue to practice their English.
“We have really expanded our curriculum, and created new classes that students have not taken before,” Kokar said. “Even when the students return in person, we will still have the opportunity to take lessons online.”
This change will not only benefit those who wish to continue their studies of English after five months at CWU, but also those who do not have the time or money to come in person.
“Although it was a shock and a dark time, so much good came from it,” Kokar said.
Makoto Takeuchi, a junior in multicultural communication at Asia University in Japan, said AUAP helped her improve her English. However, there were no opportunities to practice English in Japan, outside of the classroom.
“I would like to meet CWU teachers and volunteers directly. Takeuchi, who was unable to attend AUAP classes in person this fall, said, “If I go to America, I can get many opportunities to practice my English alongside AUAP classes.
ESL hopes to return to in-person instructions this spring. International student-focused clubs and events have either reverted to in-person events or turned into co-ed events, such as Autumn International Cafés, one of which was online, and one of them co-ed.
International Cafés are events intended to promote interaction between international and American CWU students. Although a couple of dates have already passed, another café will take place on November 18 on Zoom. In addition, international students on campus this fall were able to participate in all of the activities, clubs, and classes that are back in personal education.
Tracing problems and student visas
What originally paralyzed operations at the start of the pandemic were restrictions on international student visas. According to regulations put in place by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State after 9/11, students traveling to the United States on an F visa were required to take mostly in-person tutoring, which allowed only one online class. J visas were a bit more lenient which allowed for some hybrid categories as well. This was to keep track of the whereabouts of international students while they were studying here, according to Steve Cook, associate director of education abroad.
In October last year, this regulation was overturned to allow international students to study mostly online in just one semester. Cook said the change helped international students because “they didn’t have to be afraid of losing immigration status, which isn’t a good thing.”
Prospective students also encountered other problems. Many US embassies have stopped issuing visas altogether. This has slowly improved with the lifting of restrictions in the United States and other countries.
Some prospective students have also had to deal with financial problems in their home countries due to the lockdown. In Vietnam for example, the country has been locked down four times, crippling the financial capacities of prospective students and their families, according to Soedström.
Prospective students must show that they have enough money to study abroad before being granted a visa. This causes difficulties because international students are not eligible for the same types of financial aid that American students receive. As such, “there is a certain amount of additional financial burden on many international students that you don’t have to worry about,” Cook said.