Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Mary Hartel, The Daily Iowan

Image of University of Iowa sophomore Joslin Some

University of Iowa sophomore Joslin Some video chats with his younger sister on Saturday, March 14, 2021 at his apartment in Iowa City. Some is an international student from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso in West Africa. His sister calls often, he says, and they often speak in a combination of English and French over the phone. (Jenna Galligan/The Daily Iowan)

Last spring, Yeji Son was preparing to go home to South Korea for the summer break, hoping that COVID-19 limitations would dwindle by then.  A year later, she’s barely left her 750-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment in Coralville.

Son is one of 2,072 international students who enrolled at the University of Iowa this fall. Iowa’s public universities have seen significant drops in international student enrollment in the last few years, which was exacerbated by the pandemic.

Although International Programs has offered plenty of support, Son said some international students still feel disconnected from campus in addition to their home countries.

“International students are just struggling in their own cave,” Son said. “I think it’s better if they have a roommate or partner, but I know some international students have a really difficult time because of the feelings [of] isolation.”

Son, a third-year international student in the counseling psychology Ph.D. program, had to stay in the U.S. throughout the pandemic because of a lack of funds. She hasn’t traveled home to South Korea since the summer of 2019.

With widespread vaccination continuing across the U.S., UI International Programs is envisioning what the future of international-student enrollment, and global programming will look like in the coming years.

In an email to The Daily Iowan, Michael Bortscheller, associate director of the UI International Student and Scholar Services, said the future for the program isn’t yet clear as the dust settles from the COVID-19 pandemic dampening international student enrollment.

“Nothing is set in stone at this time, both because the situation with the pandemic can change and has changed rapidly and also because we need guidance from Federal Agencies regarding when or whether immigration regulations will go back to the way they were before 2020,” Bortscheller wrote.

While the pandemic has created challenges for everyone, Bortscheller wrote, international students have dealt with additional hurdles far away from their home countries.

“Some students had to face a decision about whether to remain in the U.S. and potentially go well over a year without seeing their families or to attempt to travel home and possibly find they couldn’t return to the U.S. to resume their studies due to the constantly changing travel restrictions from January to July of 2020,” Bortscheller wrote.