Menlo College International Students in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Alix Pommier

ATHERTON, Calif. — The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many difficulties for international students at Menlo College, from time zone challenges to isolation and uncertainty of their immigration status, highlighting the need to bolster support services at the school. “Being an international student at Menlo College in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic is definitely a challenge,” says Aurelie Burlot, a student from France, currently a junior at Menlo. This pandemic has affected most people globally, impacting health, economics, and emotional well-being, and has been known to be extremely difficult on students, particularly international students. 

According to a statement from the Menlo International Students Services Team, “Although each student’s experience is different, there are challenges that are unique to international students (e.g., time zone differences, travel bans, potential communication challenges with ESL, visa issues, chaotic immigration policies with regard to higher ed).” Many international students felt that, on top of the worries caused by a health pandemic, they had to face unprecedented challenges due to their international student status. In fact, “most of us had to worry about visas, OPTs, opportunities being much more difficult to obtain, very messed up sleeping schedules, and loss of employment while showing our happy-looking faces through the webcams and being successful academically,” says Laura Alberti, a senior at Menlo College from Italy. 

The challenges faced by international students seem to be more complicated than the ones faced by domestic students. To avoid dealing with legal restrictions related to visas, documents required for all international students to take classes in the United States, some students have decided to take a leave absence. Data obtained from the Registrar’s Office reveals that 40% of students taking a leave of absence these past two semesters have been foreign. In comparison, only 25% of students are international at Menlo College. Also, out of all the students who cited the COVID-19 Pandemic as the reason for their leave of absence, 45% were international students.

This past year, as Menlo College offered online-only classes, many international students had to follow their courses from their home country, keeping up with classes in considerably different time zones. According to Celina Husung, a junior at Menlo College from Germany, “It has been very difficult to be a Menlo student living abroad. Many students like me, that reside either in Europe or Asia, have been truly struggling with the time zone difference. Doing presentations and taking exams in the middle of the night is not only physically, but also mentally straining.” 

While many international students had to face challenges from home, others had to stay in the USA, often lacking support and most of the time feeling isolated. According to Aurelie Burlot, “Being away from family and friends definitely had a huge impact on me, mentally and emotionally, especially during hard times like this pandemic. I could not go back home due to financial and travel restrictions, as well as problems with my F-1 visa. I felt like I needed support, but I was left alone, and it has been very difficult.”

International students often felt like they lacked support from Menlo College, from everyday actions to financial issues and lack of knowledge of current restrictions. “Due to health regulations, they were not able to serve us food during the summer and a lot of things were not allowed which made it harder. Also, it was a very uncertain situation, and nobody really had answers to my questions as we didn’t know what was going to happen,” says Burlot, accompanied by Bastien Grunenwald, a junior from France, who thought that Menlo College “could have lowered the tuition” to help international students who do not have access to federal aid or financial support. 

Although students expressed their concerns about the school’s lack of support, most of them also understand that this situation is unprecedented. They also understood that the college does not always have all answers and knowledge of the situation. According to Alberti, “It is important to recognize that there are some wonderful and very empathetic people working for Menlo, and I think that those people truly worked hard to make everybody’s experience less distressing. I had everyone responding to me in a timely manner when I had questions and helping me when I was struggling.” The International Students Services Team also stated that “We’re all going through this for the first time and finding opportunities to learn and see where we can improve.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic has been an extraordinary situation at Menlo College, and its consequences have been extremely difficult for international students, many students hope that the school will gauge the international students’ challenges better in the future. La’Tonya Rease Miles, newly appointed Dean of Student Affairs at Menlo College, and Valeria Molteni, Dean of Library Services, have started taking actions to create a better support system at Menlo College international students. As La’Tonya reassured, “change is coming.” 

The picture featured is “us visa” by bastamanography is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

Alix was born in Paris, France and lived there for 18 years until she moved to Atherton, California. She currently is a senior at Menlo College studying International Management. Although she has not set her mind on her future profession, Alix plans to gain professional experience in the Bay Area before potentially moving to another country in order to achieve her bigger career goals.