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How international students are balancing school, family and health during the pandemic

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The uncertainty of the COVID pandemic has left international students managing school at odd hours and trying to stay in communication with family back home.

Erica Lee, a junior business economics major, decided to complete the rest of her semester from her home in Seoul, South Korea. She flew out from Chicago on Oct. 9, after spending the summer in Peoria when Bradley shut down due to COVID-19 in the spring semester.

Lee’s time zone is 15 hours ahead of Peoria, but she still manages to match her sleep schedule with her classes, as all six of them are synchronous and require attendance.

“Honestly, the quality of classes isn’t as good as being in an in-person class and motivating myself is extremely difficult and stressful,” Lee said. “But an advantage to doing classes from home is how much I can improve my time management skills and the free time I get to spend with family and friends.”

Due to a sudden decision from the Trump administration this past summer that potentially halting international students from coming back into the U.S. if their schools were transitioning to a completely online format, most international students decided to enroll for hybrid or on-campus classes to be eligible to stay in the country.

The Bradley international student and scholar services had given students three options: enroll full-time to attend courses on Bradley’s campus or in a hybrid format, enroll full-time to complete courses online from inside or outside the U.S. or enroll part-time or take a leave of absence from outside the U.S.

A second year graduate student from L’viv, Ukraine, Volodymyr Kohut, an accounting major, said even though coming to Bradley was the right decision, being an international student at this time has been slightly challenging. He is currently taking classes online from his home in Ukraine, which is eight hours ahead of Peoria.

“I am luckier than the rest because my classes run from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., but I do have club meetings that go till 3 a.m. my time,” Kohut said.

He is a member of the International Student Association, the Convergence Circle project and participates in all major related events.

“My professors are also very flexible with deadlines and accommodations so that has helped a lot,” Kohut said.

Other students feel differently about classes, as the pandemic has not been the only major influence in their lives.

“Classes are not even a priority right now because my home is being hit by a hurricane as we are talking,” said Javier Sierra, a junior manufacturing engineering major and president of the International Student Association.

Sierra is from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Hurricane Eta started in near Nicaragua, pushing a death toll of 120 people as of Nov. 11 in Central America and Mexico before passing by Florida this week.

Sierra was concerned for his parents and wished he could go back home to help out but thought it was a risk to do so right now. The last time he visited home was this past summer.

“We just seemed to make progress from the hit we had from the pandemic and were starting to get a new normal, but the hurricane could change things up again,” Sierra said.

As campus shuts down for the rest of the semester after Thanksgiving break, going home might be a tricky decision to make for international students. Given the uncertain political climate, the second wave of COVID-19 cases and financial conditions, it comes down to the question of whether leaving the country is a risk or an opportunity.

“I feel like I might not be able to come back, so I might just end up staying here or visiting a family in Georgia,” said Eugenia Akurang, a junior civil engineering major from Accra, Ghana. “We don’t know what’s going to happen here in the span of the next month even so why risk it?”

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