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Saturday, May 08, 2021 at 10:51 am

International Student Experience During the Pandemic

By Louise Rath

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – International students made up about 20% of Syracuse University’s student population before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and each of them had a unique experience this past year. 

When the pandemic first hit in March of 2020, international students had two options: to go home, and risk not coming back, or to stay in the U.S. not knowing when they would go home. 

For those that stayed in the U.S., they either moved in with friends or lived on South Campus for the summer. 

Juan Tavares, Director of Syracuse University’s Center for International Services, said SU’s decision to provide housing for international students was uncommon. 

“We are one of very few Universities that actually did that compared to many other Universities in the United States, that basically told their students, ‘you have to leave us’,” Tavares said. 

Students who lived on South Campus were granted access to Goldstein Student Center for groceries and laundry, and some started treating their stay as a vacation. 

“It’s a kind of… vacation village,” said Yuefeng Liu or “Louie,” who spent the Summer of 2020 on South Campus. 

Liu hasn’t been home to China since the pandemic hit over a year ago. 

He says the process to go back home is too hard, and too expensive. 

Yajie Lan or “Lannie” made a contrasting decision to Liu’s, and she hasn’t been back in Syracuse in over a year. 

Lan was one of few students lucky enough to return to China at the height of coronavirus lockdowns.  

“I was really lucky at the time, because my airplane didn’t get cancelled,” Lan said. 

Lan has also been fortunate enough to take in-person classes in Beijing, thanks to Syracuse University Assistant Architecture Professor Wang Fei. 

Fei helped to open in-person learning opportunities at studios in Beijing and Shanghai for Chinese students studying architecture at SU. 

Tavares and the Center for International services worked with Syracuse Abroad to help open these opportunities for students. 

“We collaborated with the office of study abroad to create opportunities in China where students could actually learn in person,” Tavares said. 

But not all students have been this lucky, as others navigated the harsh realities of online learning. 

Polina Shemanova is an international student from Russia, who struggled with the initial onset of learning from home. 

“I hate online school and that was like a really hard switch for me to do everything from home,” Shemanova said. 

For some time, Shemanova was logging into online classes from her home in St. Petersburg, Russia, when she was waiting to have her visa renewed so she could return to the U.S. 

Weeks after the start of the Spring 2021 semester, Shemanova was able to return to the U.S. after spending over four months in Russia. 

“I was looking outside of the window and I was like ‘I don’t believe I’m in the US right now’,” Shemanova said. 


Syracuse University saw a large increase in the number of international students who returned for the Spring 2021 semester, compared to Fall 2020. 


Juan Tavares said this is due in part to SU’s decision to push the start of the Spring 2021 semester back by two weeks. 


“It really gave us a little bit more breathing time, that the students could actually get here,” Tavares said. 


Looking ahead to Fall 2021, the Center for International Services is gearing up to welcome a large group of International students.