Too Afraid to Leave, Too Afraid to Stay: My Experience as an International Student During COVID-19

Walking up to the admissions building with high anxiety and emotions, not knowing what would happen next, I walked into International Student Advisor Katie Clair’s office. Not seeing her around, I waited until she got to her office. Instantly, she was swarmed by her students. Everyone had the same emotions, fears, anxieties, and questions“What should we do? Should we just go home?” 

The college’s decision to go online for the following three weeks came on a Wednesday afternoon. After much anticipation throughout the week, we finally knew what was happening. There was a sudden moment of silence in Mather, as they read the email. Everyone had mixed emotionssome excited that they almost had an extended spring break, some upset about not being able to go for their spring break plans, and had to go back home, some worried and nervous about what they were going to do. 

No sooner did the email go out to the entire Trinity community, that I noticed all my international friends getting phone calls from their parents, worried about what was happening. Eventually, we got our answers after speaking to Katie, the deans, and our professors. While a few international students decided to go home instantly, most of us were stuck between wanting to go home but being scared to do so, even after receiving the necessary guidance. 

I had so many questions of my own before even trying to explain and convince my parents. If I go back, when will I return? Will I be able to return? What would happen to my academic visa? What about the graduating seniors? What about their jobs and our internships? What were we supposed to do if we couldn’t go back home? But those from higher-risk countries or countries with locked borders stayed back. I cannot even begin to think about how they are doing and how traumatic the lonely campus could be. While most of us are familiar with this loneliness, it is hard to bear it at times. Seeing parents help pack their child’s belongings and drive them off from Mather circle really tore us apart with conflicting feelings of both wanting to go home and being scared to leave. 

After talking to my anxious parents, from 7,000 miles away, almost knowing that they wouldn’t sleep that night, I had to be composed as I explained to them what the college’s advice was. I had to fight my tears as I spoke to them but eventually broke down after they hung up. I knew that they were worried, and that’s when I knew I should really go home. Even after making the decision to come back home, things weren’t easy. Nothing was the same. The possibility of catching the virus on a flight, not knowing if we were going to be put in the quarantine facility, or go home and self-quarantine⁠—it all heightened the anxiety. After clearing all immigration checks, I walked out of the airport, happy to see my mom. But my heart sank when, for the first time, I wasn’t hugged at the airport by my mother, who was relieved to see me safe but equally cautious. The good thing was, we had spring break, so it gave us all some downtime to settle into the situation. 

But the unusual spring break didn’t help as much. With the constant worry about potentially acquiring the virus and transmitting it to my family, I worried. But eventually, classes started. Online classes were just as hard. It was almost as if I wasn’t back home because I had to keep up with classes at erratic hours due to the time difference, which drastically altered my sleep schedule. My schedule was still aligned to college while figuring how to maintain sanity through this difficult period. Logging on to classes at 8 pm to join a 9 am class at Trinity, and then staying up until 6 am was tiring. It meant that I barely shared a meal with my family while I was home. It was something that hadn’t happened earlier. I was torn apart between waking up early and helping out with the house chores and my health because of my erratic sleep schedule. 

However, what broke my heart more was to know that some of my friends were forced to stay back on campus or were stuck in transit in a completely unknown country. Irrespective of my sleep and classes, I was at least home, eating home-cooked food, and I was so grateful. For the longest time, I couldn’t stop thinking about my friend who was stuck in a completely unknown country because his country had closed borders. My other friend was not allowed to be in a country where she lived for 15 years with her family, even with a residence permit. I heard several stories from my friends who said they finally reached home after five days of driving from a neighboring country. It was almost as if they smuggled themselves into a place they called home. While some of my friends absolutely loved the idea of being able to go back home for the rest of the semester, some of us had our whole world change overnight. 

Some of the students struggled with being able to find funds to get a laptop, while others faced Internet and connectivity issues. Students with mental health issues had to give up their cyclical counseling in an instant. While the Counseling Center has been extremely sensitive about this, due to regulations, they aren’t able to completely help individuals who are “out of state.” Individuals who depended on their on-campus jobs suddenly had no source of earnings and were not eligible to receive the $1200 stimulus. 

While the future is unknown to all of us, the worries about potentially getting a job post-graduation or being able to return for graduate school are worrisome for most international students due to the visa implications. The biggest overarching worry we all have is wanting to know if we will return to campus in the fall or even spring. It has not been an easy transition for any student, be it a high schooler or a college student. Nonetheless, I am grateful for everything the Trinity administration and faculty have done. They have stood by all of us in these distressing times and helped us with all the possible resources to complete this semester smoothly. Shoutout to all those professors that made our classes fun and helped us forget about the pandemic even for a little bit during class! As my mom says, “it’s the distressing time that shows you who supports you.”

Author bio: I am an international student at Trinity College with lofty missions but down-to-earth plans. 

Copyrighted by Anonymous student. Editorial assistance provided by Morgan Finn. This work is part of the “Telling Our Covid Stories” project by the Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER) at Trinity College.

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