Internationals Stranded by Pandemic

By: Sarah Patterson and Lindsey Farni

Contributors: Emily Bailey and Justin Paxton

Eight months into the pandemic, the lives of South’s international students continue to be upended by travel bans, quarantines, and the inability to work off campus.

Many international students’ challenges were due to their countries’ economies shutting down and flights home being canceled, said Heather Nix, director of International Admission and Student Programs. That left many students stranded for the summer, and financially impacted.

The travel restrictions and cancellations resulted when most countries, including the U.S. and many of the international students’ home countries were ranked at warning level 3 out of 4, which indicates “do not travel.” 

Tony Dada, a master’s student at South from Nigeria, said he did not return home because of the risk he would be unable to come back to school in the fall. He had to resort to Zoom calls to connect with his family and hasn’t seen his mother in four years. 

With the campus closed and the rules for international students preventing him from working off-campus, Dada also faced deportation due to a lack of funds. 

Nabila Mushtarin, a master’s student from Bangladesh, experienced similar problems with an added complication: She was separated from her husband for six months.

The couple’s plan had been for Mushtarin to move to Mobile to finish her master’s while her husband also pursued a graduate degree at South. Their plans fell apart after her husband’s flight was canceled due to the coronavirus and Bangladesh banned all travel to the U.S. 

“My parents were calling me and telling me that you’re in a far-off country and you’re alone and obviously you’re stressed about the overall situation, so you should probably come back home,” said Mushtarin, whose graduate assistantship was postponed amid the pandemic, leaving her unable to afford the trip.

Ultimately, Bangladesh reopened flights to America, but the price of a one-way ticket had quadrupled. But after six months apart, money was no object.

“At that moment, we were thinking we don’t care how much money we’re spending. We just need to be here and be together,” said Mushtarin, whose husband caught the last plane out. “It’s sheer luck that he was able to come here. His flight was the only one that flew that day and his money luckily didn’t go to waste.” 

In the reverse circumstance was Ian Montes, an international student from Peru. Though he was able to return home to quarantine with his family, Montes could not travel back to campus for the fall semester, interrupting his education.  

“Thankfully my family has been keeping safe,” Montes texted in a Skype interview. “But I am worried how long this situation will last in these countries since it will take longer for things to get better here than it will in developed countries.” 

However, not all International students had a negative experience with the coronavirus.

Mary Badalamenti, a South student living in Italy’s hard-hit Lombardy region, said the pandemic had brought her family unexpectedly closer. Pre-COVID, the young mother was facing the decision of whether to relocate the family to Mobile to finish her education in required face-to-face classes. When classes moved online, Badalamenti and her family stayed in Italy, and she became a stay-at-home mother and student.

“It’s brought my children closer as siblings, it brought my husband and I closer as a couple,” Badalamenti said. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.” 

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