COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact international students and study abroad programs

Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 8:53 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting international students and study abroad programs. Many students are unable to travel either here to Springfield or back home during holiday breaks.

International student Yuganesh Gunalan says it’s been extremely stressful worrying about traveling home to see his family.

”COVID takes a toll on your mental health,” Gunalan says. “No matter how strong you are. No matter how positive you are. Being away from your family, being away from people you love, and having that uncertainty of not knowing what’s happening there fully. I know that I had to go back and I knew that I was prepared to face anything to go back.”

Gunalan is a graduate student at Missouri State University. He traveled home to Malaysia during the height of the pandemic in 2020. The government forced him to quarantine in a hotel room for 14 days before he was able to see his family. His latest visit home was in December of 2021, which came after not seeing his family for a year and a half.

“I also had to do a lot of pre-planning which was pretty stressful honestly because policies in Malaysia and many countries they change by the day,” Gunalan says. “I’m not even lying. They change literally every day there’s something new coming or something is being removed.”

MSU’s Associate Vice President of International Education and Training Brad Bodenhausen says there are 140 new international students here this semester. In total, there are 1600 international students. About half of them are on campus in Springfield and the other half are abroad, mostly at the branch campus in China.

“We had students from 93 different countries on campus here in Springfield, which is our highest number any of us can ever recall so a really wide range of representation and international diversity on our campus,” Bodenhausen says.

Bodenhausen says this semester, they’re seeing more students coming from South Asia and Africa. However, MSU is seeing fewer students from China.

Bodenhausen says pre-pandemic about 700 students went abroad from Missouri to locations around the world. This year, it’s only about 100 students.

It’s not just impacting international students but professors as well. There are only six professors in-person on the China campus this semester.

“The others are somewhere else in the world,” Bodenhausen says. “Some are here in Southwest Missouri. Others are in Vietnam, Thailand, other locations where these instructors live so it’s been mostly remote teaching and learning.”

For any international students who are feeling stressed or anxious, MSU has created a program to support students called the international care and advocacy team.

“It’s a group within our international programs team but representing many different countries and cultures and regions of the world,” Bodenhausen says. “Our effort is to be available and to be proactive as much as we can to reach out and identify and be a resource for students that are facing any challenges.”

Any students interested can contact the international program office and they’ll put them in touch with leaders of the team to help.

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