By June Sanchez || Investigative Reporter
Franklin & Marshall’s international students have mixed opinions regarding the school’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some were quicker to praise the school and others tended towards cautious criticism, each of the four students interviewed for this article, three of whom chose to remain anonymous, pointed out both positives and negatives in the school’s handling of this unique and unprecedented situation.
In their criticisms, students emphasized how the school often responds slowly to the constantly changing realities of this fast-paced pandemic. One student who primarily commended F&M’s pandemic response said, “The only thing that maybe could have been done differently is how quickly they announced that the whole semester would go online. A lot of international students were discouraged from flying home while it was still relatively safe because we didn’t know if we would have to come back”. While the school’s initial March 11th decision to continue online instruction until April 3rd with the possibility of returning to school was comforting, it discouraged international students from flying home, for fear they would not be able to return if the semester resumed in-person instruction. Because of this, many students are now struggling to find ways home for the summer. A student who is still on campus said that while she was able to find a flight home, it was the most expensive ticket she has ever purchased, and her flight was cancelled twice. She acknowledges, however, that many are not as lucky as she is, and are still struggling to find a way off campus and a living situation for the summer. Another student also spoke to the school’s slower than ideal response, stating, “Many who chose to trust the school in figuring this issue out got caught in surprise. Now many parents and students are crazy trying to get a flight, which has recently been extremely hard and expensive, if at all possible to get.”
Other criticisms of F&M’s treatment of the pandemic were more personal. One student mentioned the school’s attitudes towards masks as a point of concern. In regard to an email sent out to the student body on March 9th, the student said: “Many students were unhappy when the school attributed wearing masks to “cultural” conduct when the pandemic initially started. It is true it did not become necessary at that time point. But the school could have recognized the medical precaution aspect of it… Saying it’s “culture” would only worsen the hostility concern it was supposed to address.”
Contrastingly, several students were quick to cite positives in the school’s COVID-19 response with one student stating, “Overall, F&M did a good job of handling the impact of the pandemic. They supported the international students and provided for us food and housing when we had nowhere else to go.” Several students were also quick to praise the Joseph International Center as a helpful resource as well as their professors for being understanding during the difficult time. When asked about her academic experience as an international student during the pandemic, Freshman Raluca Rilla said, “From my perspective, my online academic experience has been very fulfilling, despite the awkwardness of Zoom classes and the difference in time zones!”
As for their plans for next year, many students remain uncertain. Of the four international interviewed for this article, only one had full confidence that they’d be able to return to school next year, with the rest emphasizing travel restrictions as a point of concern.
Don Saleh, Interim Vice President for Enrollment, verified these concerns, commenting, “For our current students who returned home, the major question has to do with their ability to re-enter the United States… Currently, the United States has travel restrictions in place that limit our international students’ ability to re-enter the US. We do not know when travel restrictions will be lifted.” Further he emphasized that first year students will face an even greater struggle, as they have to secure an F1 visa before they can attend school in the United States. As for F&M’s plans for these students, Saleh says, “we are building plans to support our first-year students from China who cannot arrive in August. We have recently announced that we will be able to host these students in Shanghai. The program there will allow students to attend full time, taking classes taught by F&M faculty members.”
Overall, F&M’s international students hold mixed responses in and amongst themselves towards the school’s handling of the pandemic. We can only hope that they, along with the rest of the student body, can return to campus in the fall.
Sophomore June Sanchez is an Investigative Reporter. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.