SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting international students and study abroad programs. Many students cannot travel here to Springfield or return home on vacation.
International student Yuganesh Gunalan says it was extremely stressful to worry about going home to see his family.
“COVID impacts your mental health,” says Gunalan. “It doesn’t matter how strong you are. It doesn’t matter how positive you are. Being away from your family, away from the people you love and having this uncertainty of not fully knowing what’s going on there. I know that I had to leave and I knew that I was ready to face anything to leave.
Gunalan is a graduate student at Missouri State University. He returned home to Malaysia at the height of the pandemic in 2020. The government forced him to quarantine in a hotel room for 14 days before he could see his family. His last home visit was in December 2021, after not seeing his family for a year and a half.
“I also had to do a lot of pre-planning, which was quite stressful, honestly, because the policies in Malaysia and in many countries are changing day by day,” says Gunalan. “I’m not even lying. They literally change every day, something new comes along or something gets deleted.
MSU Associate Vice President of International Education and Training Brad Bodenhausen said there were 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 overseas, mostly on the secondary campus in China.
“We had students from 93 different countries on campus here in Springfield, which is our largest number that any of us can remember, so a very wide range of international representation and diversity on our campus,” says Bodenhausen.
Bodenhausen says this semester they are seeing more students from South Asia and Africa. However, MSU is seeing fewer Chinese students.
Bodenhausen says that before the pandemic, about 700 students went abroad from Missouri to places around the world. This year, there are only a hundred students.
This not only has an impact on international students, but also on professors. There are only six teachers in person on the Chinese campus this semester.
“The others are elsewhere in the world,” says Bodenhausen. “Some are here in southwest Missouri. Others are in Vietnam, Thailand, other places where these instructors live, so it’s mostly distance 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 countries, cultures and regions of the world,” says Bodenhausen. “Our effort is to be available and to be proactive as much as possible to reach out and identify and be a resource for students who are facing challenges.”
All interested students can contact the International Program Office and they will put them in touch with the team leaders to help them.
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