COVID hits differently for TMU’s international students

Spring of 2020 is a semester that any student will likely remember for the rest of their life. It was the semester of talks about a “bad flu” and a two-week spring break. While COVID-19 had an effect for everyone, it hit international students in a unique way.

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For senior Debbie Birgean, the effect of the COVID lockdown has continued to make family/travel life complex.

 “I haven’t been home since the beginning of August 2020,” she said.

Originally from Romania, Birgean had to make decisions in March of 2020 that most sophomores in college don’t have to worry about until graduation, and maybe even not then; she had to decide where she was going to live.

“I remember them telling us that we were going to have two weeks of spring break,” she said. “And I don’t know, something in my mind was like, pack your room, be ready.”

She was right.

After the two weeks of spring break, The Master’s University, as did most other universities, chose to shut down until further notice. This news threw many international students into that big decision.

At this time, Birgean’s home country was fully locked down, making it impossible for her to be with her family. Although the school did offer alternative housing for students from out of the country, she had family friends that lived about two hours away from campus and chose to finish her semester there, as well as stay with them for the first couple months of summer break.

After having hopes of attending her sister’s wedding in late May, Birgean soon realized that “it was not going to happen.” The following month, she was able to book a flight for three days later and arrive back home after 16 hours of flying and was placed directly into a two-week quarantine that was monitored by the Romanian police.

After her quarantine, Birgean spent the summer with her family. Then she faced a new challenge: getting back to school. She could then only pray that she would be able to make it back to campus in time for chapel band retreat. All she could remember thinking was, “Lord, please let me get back in the country.”

Despite a canceled flight, she was eventually able to make it back to the U.S. and has yet to return to her home country. Birgean will graduate this month and is applying for Graduate. school. She plans on going back to Romania in her semester off.

“That was the plan from the beginning, to just spend some time with my family.” she said.

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Coming in the fall 2020 semester, sophomore and fellow international student Daniel Chow had a different experience with COVID when arriving at TMU.

After finishing his final semester of high-school online, Chow “got [his] visa about three days before [he] flew out” of his hometown of Rugby, England and arrived in Newhall to attend TMU.

One of the main challenges he found with coming to the U.S. during the height of COVID restrictions was that “it made it harder to adapt.”

“It took some time to feel at home,” Chow said. “Restrictions made it hard to meet people [and] I didn’t come here knowing anyone.”

He said that working at the cafeteria on campus helped him meet people as they were immediately intrigued by his accent when he asked them what they wanted.

After getting his feet under him socially and culturally, Chow realized that “[he] had to make [his] own life for [himself]” since he has no family in the states and has been unable to go back home since arriving in California.

The fear, as with Birgean and all international students in the last two years, was getting stuck in his home country and being unable to return to school. For this reason, Chow stayed on campus during the summer and faced the challenges of that.

While it was an amazing opportunity that the school allowed for international students to stay on campus, for someone like Chow with no car or means of transportation, it was difficult. The cafeteria was unable to stay open and lower caf. was only open for a couple weeks, making food availability a challenge.

He was able to move off campus a couple weeks before school started and has remained off-campus since then. He believes that “a lot of issues would be resolved if there were more people” occupying campus during the summers, taking jobs that might allow the lower caf. to be open as well as mitigating the loneliness of being one of only a few living on campus.

On the positive side, Chow has found the admissions department and several employees of the school to be a huge asset as someone from out of the country.

“Joshua English does a really great job … He takes me to the dentist [and] all of the internationals rave about him.” he said.

Chow hopes to travel home for the holidays. and be with his family at home for the first time since August, 2020.

As a whole, Chow believes that his time away from home has been a maturing experience, even though he “would [still] advise internationals to go home as much as they can.” He said that “God knows what’s best” and that spending this extended amount of time essentially by himself in a different country has been “learning and teaching [him] to adapt.”

Although he doesn’t plan on being in America long term, Chow knows that TMU is constantly preparing him to go back by teaching the Bible.

“I’m so grateful for the school that is providing a Christian education that can reach people across the world,” he said. “The school has really impacted the world globally.”

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