Lehigh international students: worried for the future, but getting financial support

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As Lehigh students anxiously await information from the university regarding the upcoming semester, international students are weighing their options and looking to Lehigh for support.

On April 27, some of Lehigh’s international students received an email from Cheryl Matherly, vice president and vice provost for International Affairs, and Dan Warner, vice provost for Admissions and Financial Aid. In the email, Lehigh recognized that due to travel restrictions and delays in securing visas, some international students may not be able to return to campus in the fall even if it reopens.

The email outlined three options for international students to consider.

The first option available to students is the “Lehigh in Residence” program, which would give international students the opportunity to complete their first semester of pre-approved courses at a partner institution within their home country.

Alberto Guinand ‘24 performing with his friends in his hometown of Lima, Peru. Guinand is one of many international students in limbo while waiting for Lehigh to decide on the fall semester. (Courtesy of Alberto Guinand)

In a May 27 tweet — commenting on an article from Chronicle of Higher Education— the university said the Lehigh in Residence plan will enable some international students, who may not be able to make it to campus, to take pre-approved courses at partner institutions around the world where it’s most convenient for them.

The plan is structured somewhat similarly to the Lehigh Launch Program, where some first-year students were going to spend their fall 2020 semester abroad with partner institutions in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. Lehigh plans to use some of the same strategies intended for the Lehigh Launch Program as with the Lehigh in Residence plan. For example, new international students would each be assigned a student on Lehigh’s campus as their virtual buddy.

There are 133 international non-U.S. citizens in the class of 2024 from 34 countries, not including U.S. expats, according to Morgan Volkart, associate vice provost, Western Region and International Recruitment.

Alberto Guinand, ‘24, from Lima, Peru, expressed concern about securing a visa in time even if Lehigh opens its doors to students in the fall.

Lehigh has not yet informed him if there is a partner institution in Peru where he could earn credits through the Lehigh in Residence plan.“Preferably, I could get credits from taking local classes because I find it easier to learn in person,” Guinand said.

Alibek Kaliyev ‘24, is from Kazakhstan and is attending Lehigh in the fall. Kaliyev said he will likely begin class remotely this fall. (Courtesy of Alibek Kaliyev)

The second option is remote learning in which Lehigh students will complete fall semester classes from home. Although this is not the university’s “preferred choice,” it is offering this option for international students who may not have a partner institution in their home country and do not want to defer admission.

This may be the case for Alibek Kaliyev, ‘24, who is from Almaty City, Kazakhstan, as his options are more limited.

 “I have discussed with my parents, and we decided that the best solution is to go online, since there are no institutions near me that can teach Lehigh’s courses with the same quality,” Kaliyev said.

The last option would be to defer admission until the spring semester or until the fall 2021 semester. As of the date of publication, no international students from the Class of 2024 have deferred their admission, Volkart said.

Wasti Khan, ‘22, was able to return home to Dhaka, Bangladesh, when Lehigh announced the shift to online classes.

Although he is optimistic he will be able to return to campus in the fall, he believes that the semester will not be what he is used to.

“Having given some thought to what reopening campus would look like, I’ve immediately hit unanswered questions, like how would we ensure a limited number of people in places like libraries, dining halls, lectures, examinations and even dorms,” Khan said.

Unlike Khan, there are many international students who were unable to return home and have remained on campus over the summer with Lehigh’s support.

Eleni Karyofylli, ‘22, and Thanos Kougionis, ‘22, who are from Thessaloniki, Greece, are grateful to Lehigh for providing them housing as they have not been able to return home and likely won’t be able to in the near future due to the pandemic.

Thanos Kougionis, ’22, is also from Greece. He said he was grateful Lehigh provided him housing while unable to travel home. (Courtesy of Thanos Kougionis)

“I’m scared we’ll have to do online school again,” Karyofylli said. “Having classes online in my opinion wasn’t as effective on the academic side as in-person school would be. I understand it was the only option at the time, but I don’t think I learned as much as I would have otherwise.”

Kougionis feels bad for the incoming freshmen who may not be able to experience their first year on Lehigh’s campus and believes many may choose to take a gap year as opposed to potentially paying Lehigh’s full tuition for online classes.

Eleni Karyofylli, ’22, has not been able to return home to Greece. She said she doesn’t think she learned as much online this past semester as she would have in person. (Courtesy of Eleni Karyofylli)

Lehigh sent out two emails to the student body in May offering the emergency fund grants to students. Kougionis applied for two grants through the Office of Financial Aid for summer housing and food expenses. His requests were approved within two days.

Finances are part of the equation, too. On June 1, Lehigh announced a $40 million budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year.

But the university has gotten some support along the way. In April, Lehigh received almost $2 million under the CARES Act. The Office of Financial Aid is currently processing its first round of checks, a total of approximately $1.1 million, for over 700 students who have applied for grants, according to Jennifer Mertz, the director of Financial Aid.

As of publication, the Office of Financial Aid has allocated $37,000 to international students with the university’s resources to support them during the pandemic.

“We are always cognizant of the overall university budget when awarding financial aid to students, however, we are still planning to meet the needs of our students, especially during this difficult time,” Mertz said.

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