We are still standing: Living through the pandemic as a college senior and international student

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Photo by: Maria Montero Silva

Maria Montero Silva, Editor-in-Chief

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of the column that was published in The Tangerine’s May 1 print issue and in the Observer-Dispatch on Sunday, May 3: https://www.uticaod.com/news/20200503/commentary-coronavirus-impact-from-utica-college-international-studentrsquos-perspective

When we first heard about that “pneumonia-like” virus in Wuhan, China, nobody expected the COVID-19 pandemic to completely shut down the world a couple of months afterward. But in a globalized world, it was just a matter of time.

On March, 16, when Utica College President Laura Casamento announced the campus closure and that students had 48 hours to move out of the residence halls, I felt lost. 

Everything students had previously known was up in the air. On-ground classes transferred to an online format, and we had no idea what was going to happen as we got closer to the end of the semester and, for seniors, to the last months of our undergraduate experience.

That news hits differently if you are an international student with no other place to go than your campus dorm. And certainly going home to Spain, the second hardest-hit country by the coronavirus pandemic at the time, was not an option, either.

And even if I went home to Spain for a month, returning to the United States to work after graduating was unclear in light of the current travel restrictions in Europe. 

Suddenly, all the stories about refugees, people, forced to leave their world behind start to make a little bit more sense. It is obviously not the same situation, but I could begin to imagine their hardships.

Utica College closed its campus on March 18, as coronavirus cases kept climbing. To put it in perspective, when the campus closed, New York State recorded 4,300 COVID-19 infections. As of May 21, that number is 356,458, with 28,636 fatalities and 61,886, according to the John Hopkins University. 

Dean of Students Timothy Ecklund reached out to me and other international students who were in a difficult situation in March. Our options were to return to our home countries or remain on campus. 

Utica College had 35 international students this past Spring semester. The school offered other internationals assistance with travel expenses and other needs. 

Most of those students had only been here for a couple of months, hoping to make the most of their experience abroad. In my three years at UC, I have seen waves of exchange students leave every semester, not knowing when we were going to see each other again. We always promised to keep in touch. This time, bidding farewell to those students was especially heartbreaking.

UC offered the eight remaining international students a place to stay in Pioneer Village, the newest residence hall. I have been here since March 18, and so far, we are well taken care of. We were delivered food from Sodexo and had pretty much everything we needed. We definitely cannot complain.

While the few internationals who remained on campus are healthy, it is the isolation part that nobody can really cure during this time. The UC campus was a vivid space, and now it resembles a ghost town, a scene taken from a ‘Chernobyl-esque’ movie. And while this is an extreme comparison, sometimes you cannot help but imagine wild scenarios when you have been isolated for a certain period of time.

We are allowed to leave campus, but we have to let Campus Safety and Emergency Management of our movements and travel plans to ensure that everybody is safe. Sometimes, it even feels wrong to walk outside. We completely understand that those restrictions are in place to protect everybody, but it is definitely a weird experience for which we were not ready.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic and an economic crisis that is going to be in history textbooks, we miss and worry about our families thousands of miles away.Most of us are also entering an uncertain job market within the next few months.

But, paraphrasing Elton John’s song, we are still standing. I have personally felt an outpouring of support and love that is so essential for our mental health during times like these. If this experience has provided us with anything positive, it has been a new perspective. Thinking we are invincible through this global pandemic is only a reflection of our privilege. Thousands are dying alone, others are mourning the unexpected loss of their loved ones, and health care workers are putting their own lives at risk to save others. Stopping has suddenly given us a new perspective about the lives we had before, when we walked the world so carelessly, ignoring our footprint. And even though we might be isolated, this is the time to come together more than we have ever done before.


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