June 15, 2021

The International Student Slow Down is Not Over

As news of the pandemic winds down, we are now reminded of the turmoil across the globe. Issues that are not new - religion, democracy, access to water, are all issues that have plagued nations long before concerns of masks and vaccines took over.

These issues will no doubt continue to influence trajectories of international students not only to the United States but around the world. Specifically, many will continue to stay closer to home rather than travel during another round of unknown travel restrictions, political unrest, and concerns for the safety of their loved ones.

For instance, take the recent news of the state of politics following the elections in Israel.
International students already put a great deal of consideration into leaving their homes and families for months on end. Many rarely travel back at all throughout the year and others don’t travel home throughout their entire course of study.
Add into that huge consideration, political upheaval and not knowing whether they can return home at any point, more students will begin to second guess their travel plans. We also see issues in Brazil with little availability of vaccination and growing protests about the next steps. 

These are just a few examples of the realities that our students are facing, regardless of their remote status. As we continue our planning, we need to recognize these realities and incorporate them into our Fall planning.

The Pandemic Helped Us A  Bit…

The shift towards remote or online learning during the pandemic allowed for more flexibility in student learning. Students were able to continue their program and stay on track to graduate at a time where travel was not possible. There were extreme challenges around this including time zone differences, bandwidth issues, and access to a comfortable study space, but in the end, many students thrived in this environment.
Additionally, due to social distancing and limited classrooms, the students who returned to campus had the availability to do their course virtually, allowing them to connect from anywhere. 

To accommodate this change in teaching modality, the government relaxed many of the regulations around online learning to allow international students to take more courses remotely and maintain their visa status. This helped students who needed to stay home and perhaps care for family members.
It also offered a learning opportunity to those who were either at risk of contracting the virus or could not access the vaccine.

Moving forward, it is unclear what this will mean for international students coming to the United States. There is certainly a range of plans from institutions for reopening in the Fall, ranging from a return to normal, with an abundance of in-person options, while others will continue to offer more hybrid options that have worked well for diverse learners.
While there is opportunity in this, there can also be confusion, since there is currently little guidance on how this will impact international students, and how colleges will react. 

While the United States is celebrating the return to “normalcy”, this is not the case around the world and international students are considering their options. Many may be eager to either continue or begin their education in the United States and, as administrators, we know our campuses are more enriching when we have a diverse population in our classes and in our halls. 

There are many examples to review, all of which cannot be covered here alone. For education administrators working on issues of international student recruitment, safety, and engagement, attention should be paid to various issues to adapt policies accordingly. Data from our recent international student panel will reveal trends across student groups on issues of mental health, career readiness, and cultural and social experiences. To find out more, visit our research page.

About the author: Kelly Golden, Ph.D., currently serves as the Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Enrollment Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts. She has over 12 years of experience across areas in higher education and  always seeking ways to eliminate barriers for students throughout their lifecycle. Kelly is a member of the GAISA executive team.