The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic disproportionately affects international students at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), challenged often with remote learning in completely different time zones, made worse in the face of declining interest in the UNH international student program.

“Everyone who could leave… left,” said Gigi Green, the academic transition and integration advisor at the Office of International Students & Scholars, about the transition to remote classes in March of 2020. She explained that people that remained on campus were incapable of returning home because of financial reasons, COVID-19 restrictions or in-person labs.

Green emphasized the difficulty for students learning remotely, sometimes in different time zones. “If you’re studying in a time zone where you’re 13 or 15 hours ahead, you would be taking an exam at 3 in the morning.”

“I remember one time I had to take an exam at 1 or 2 in the morning and I was working the day after,” said Victor Menudier, a senior business major, who spent the remainder of the spring 2020 semester studying from France but has since returned to campus. He said he preferred in-person learning to remote. “It’s easier for me to learn in-person than online, even though teachers have been doing a great job with their classes.”

Other students preferred learning remotely, said Green, as they and their parents felt safer being able to learn from home. She said there were some international students in early March of 2020 that felt Americans took too many risks, and some Asian students were afraid of being perceived as sick if they wore masks.

According to the September 2020 Clery report from the UNH police department, there were six hate crimes based in race, national origin or ethnicity in 2019. In 2018, there were two.

“Maybe students are feeling safer in general, I think it’s kind of exposed some vulnerabilities that some students or their parents felt about coming to the U.S.,” said Green, “are students going to say, ‘I can study online from home, why would I go to UNH?’” Lin Zhang, a researcher of trends among international students and professor in the marketing department of the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, shared this idea of a shift towards remote learning and decreased numbers. Students have less reason to learn internationally and remain in the country afterwards. “Because of COVID, and the rising unemployment situation here, they can’t stay.”

Lin Zhang, a researcher of trends among international students and professor in the marketing department of the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, shared this idea of a shift towards remote learning and decreased numbers. Students have less
reason to learn internationally and remain in the country afterwards. “Because of COVID, and the rising unemployment situation here, they can’t stay.”

In the fall of 2019, there were 811 total international students on campus, compared to 573 total students in the fall of 2020 and 519 this semester, according to UNH Global, although these statistics don’t distinguish remote and in-person students. UNH Global, although these statistics don’t distinguish remote and in-person students. UNH Global, although these statistics don’t distinguish remote and in-person students.

“We had a decrease in the number of new students coming, and we had never had international students studying at UNH from home,” said Green. “That had never been a thing.”

Both Zhang and Green also noted that UNH invested less in their international program in recent years because of declining numbers. “International students were close to 10% (of the student population) in 2016, and the numbers have gone down since Trump administration policies and since COVID, so we’re not as much of a presence on campus,” said Green.

Despite this, many individual faculty members still work to provide international students with the best experience possible. Menudier said he appreciated the effort by faculty to help international students, referencing a panel held at the beginning of the semester for faculty and students to discuss accommodations. “Teachers were willing to learn about how international students were affected by the pandemic and how they could change to make it better for us,” said Menudier. “The fact that teachers were at that panel, willing to ask questions, was great.”

Garry Yapto, a senior environmental engineering major who was studying from Indonesia, said engineering professor Nancy Kinner was a great help during the transition for all students, mentioning her colleagues to consider the circumstances. “She cares about every single person there, including international students,” said Yapto.

However, Yapto felt that UNH as a whole had done poorly in assisting international students at the beginning of the pandemic. He emphasized the short notice students had to transition to remote because of the long decision-making process of the school.

Yapto cited both Boston University and respective websites, whereas UNH students weren’t told of the transition to remote until March 18, 2 days into spring break.

With the difficulties of remote learning and the feeling of disconnect from campus, Yapto said it was difficult to apply himself. “I don’t actually learn too much anyways, unless I want to get a good score,” said Yapto. “I don’t think that’s the point of education.”

Photo courtesy of TNH Staff.