Supporting International Students through COVID-19
The International Center, located in the Office of International Programs, is the college’s home base for the international community at Columbia College. It serves students at main campus in Columbia, Missouri, as well as growing populations at the college’s locations in Denver and Salt Lake City. The Center’s staff provides our diverse student body with a welcoming environment that cultivates academic success and personal development, as well as assistance with federal immigration regulations and promotion of intercultural education.
When campus closed in March, international students faced tough decisions about how, when and whether they could return home. After ensuring students had a safe place to go, the Center provided support related to immigration and travel, financial uncertainty and social isolation. The Office of International Programs worked with the college’s Advancement and Student Affairs offices to raise and award private funds for students. These funds were especially important as international students were ineligible to receive emergency funding provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress. Students also attended regular virtual meet-ups to combat the loneliness and isolation of physical distancing.
“While it is a highly stressful and unpredictable time for everyone, international students have been particularly affected by the pandemic.
It has taken a major mental and emotional toll on our students who don’t have support systems in the area,” says Britta Wright, director of the International Center. “It has been both our job and privilege to offer resources, provide guidance and assist students through this crisis, so they may continue to achieve their academic and personal goals.”
July saw a rollercoaster of news as the federal government determined policies affecting international students. During a time of such uncertainty, the Center was in regular contact, offering open advising sessions to help students understand those policies as well as the college’s reopening and academic implementation plans for the fall.
Plans are in place to assist students throughout the fall semester. Following a mandatory quarantine period for students returning to the U.S. from abroad, a mostly virtual International Student Orientation welcomed students to campus. The Center continues to support students living abroad who are unable to return for in-person instruction, explore ways to build community in a virtual environment and help residential students navigate housing logistics for when the college plans to transition to an all-virtual platform in November.
“While this is not a traditional semester in any respect, we can and will make it successful,” says Miranda Wilkerson, assistant provost for International Programs. American higher education, she emphasizes, depends on the presence and diversity of international students. “We can’t do education in the 21st century without them. International students create campuses and classrooms where students experience difference and can become more globally proficient. Their inclusion enriches the learning environment for everyone.” –MW