COVID-19 has impacted all Lehigh students this fall semester, but the impact has been felt especially hard by international students who have had to contend with visas, travel restrictions and long-distance learning.
In August, Lehigh announced a decision to limit the number of undergraduate students on campus and advised most newly admitted international students to remain in their home countries. Currently, there is a mix of international students who are in Bethlehem and those who have remained in their home countries.
Juan Marco Montano, ’23, is an international student from Guatemala currently living off-campus in Bethlehem. He said everything back home has been closed as a result of the pandemic.
He has been in the U.S. since April and has not been back to Guatemala since. Montano had to get a special permit from the government so he could come to the U.S. and attend classes.
“They’re not scared of letting you leave, they’re scared of having you come back,” Montano said about Guatemala.
He explained his family felt he was safer in America than back home. Montano has two in-person classes and said he is happy with his decision to stay in Bethlehem.
Caroline Neal, the intercultural programs coordinator for the International Students and Scholars Office at Lehigh, explained there were many factors that made it difficult specifically for first-year international students.
“If there was any reason at all that Lehigh decided to go fully remote this semester, it could cause issues for our new international students,” Neal said. “Additionally, many embassies and consulates are either still not open or it may take months to get a visa appointment, so it made it a lot harder for first year students to get here.”
Neal explained the different time zones have been challenging for the International Students and Scholars Office when trying to make programming accessible and accommodating for all the different pockets of students.
“I have heard of many students changing their sleep schedules so they can take classes in Eastern time,” Neal said. “The time zone thing has been the biggest challenge this semester.”
Neal said there are roughly 40 international students living in residence halls this semester. She did not have information regarding off-campus international students.
Gabriel Rivera, ’23, is an international student who is currently living in his home country of Guatemala. He said the decision on whether or not to go back to campus for the fall was possibly more difficult to make than his decision on which college to attend.
In the end, he decided it would make the most sense to stay home since most of his classes were online.
“The time difference has been hard to adjust because I have classes at 6 a.m., and I have to convert all the due dates of my assignments because it’s easy to forget,” Rivera said. “However, most of the days I’m done with classes before lunch, so I do get all the afternoon free.”
Rivera also said many of his friends from high school are in the same situation, so he feels supported. He plans on coming back to Lehigh in the spring even if classes are still online.
“I am maintaining a positive attitude about how the situation plays out from here to January, and hopefully by that time we get closer to the ‘normal’ way of life I had for the most part of my first year in college,” Rivera said.