“It’s definitely different being one of the few people who are still living on campus, but it’s not as bad as it seems. It does get lonely, but I think everyone is feeling a little bit of that regardless of them being at home or living on campus."
It’s mid-April and, in response to the COVID-19 health crisis, the campus of Bridgewater State University sits empty with most staff, faculty and students learning and working remotely. However, there is one group of students who remain at the university.
Nisay Heng, ’20, is one. While some international students were able to get back to their native countries, the Cambodian native and dozens of other BSU students were unable to travel home due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, border closures and other obstacles.
“It’s definitely different being one of the few people who are still living on campus, but it’s not as bad as it seems. It does get lonely, but I think everyone is feeling a little bit of that regardless of them being at home or living on campus,” she said.
There are 86 international students in all who were studying and living at BSU this semester when the COVID-19 health crisis struck.
“Hopefully, as things improve globally students will be able to leave at the end of the semester,” said Jennifer Currie, associate director of the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS).
In the meantime, ISSS, which is run out of the university’s Minnock Institute for Global Engagement, is doing everything possible to provide support for international students still here.
First, students were moved to a safe location where they could practice social distancing. Together with Residence Life and Housing, ISSS helped students pack up and move into Crimson Hall where every student was assigned to his or her own room.
“In the beginning I didn’t like the idea of moving from my original room,” Nisay said. “But I like having a room to myself, it gives me time and space to stay focused and I can work out whenever I want to.”
Once students were securely moved into Crimson, ISSS stayed in constant communication with them, helping them transition to online classes.
On top of providing academic support, ISSS also secured dining services and health/counseling telehealth services.
“The general response we’ve gotten from our international students is positive,” Currie said. “They do seem happy and understand these things are out of everyone’s control. Sometimes they are sad, but they’re making the most of it.”
Ukraine native Olena Bychkovska, G’20, is another international student who was unable to get home. Unlike the others, she lives off campus and initially faced different challenges.
“As a person without a car, I could not stock up (on supplies) like everyone else, so I was just hoping there was food left the next time I went to the store,” she said.
Despite the setbacks, she said BSU’s team of internationally focused administrators has done an amazing job meeting her needs.
“They have been very supportive. I know they worked with other departments at BSU to help the international students that can’t leave the U.S.,” Olena said.
ISSS also continues to support international students who did manage to get home. Together with the Information Technology department, provisions were put in place allowing these students to continue their studies online.
The accommodations are the result of a lot of team work, Currie said.
“The BSU campus really does care about our international students,” she said.