For some international students, Elon is still home

International students who remain at Elon have adjusted to life during COVID-19 with the support of family, friends and the university community.

As the trees and flowers bloom across Elon’s campus with the warming weather, the groups of students who would normally be walking the brick paths to class or studying under trees together are absent. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and a call for sheltering in place and social distancing, the majority of Elon students have returned to their family’s homes.

A campus that houses thousands of students is certainly quieter, but it’s not empty. Hundreds of students who needed to remain on campus are still at Elon, either in residence halls or nearby in off-campus housing. Elon’s Global Education Center estimates that around 45 international students are part of that group.

Adela Han ’23 is one of the international students who is still living on campus. The early childhood education major is from Beijing, China, where her family is also abiding by a stay-at-home order. Like Adela, her little sister Elva is attending classes online, and her parents are both working remotely. They’re communicating often and sharing stories about their experiences.

Han says the atmosphere in Global Neighborhood feels very different, but she likes the quiet and said she is comfortable with the time to herself. “I’m feeling good living on campus,” she said. “Honestly I’m not a people person so it’s really kind of nice to be alone.”

She feels like her classes have transitioned well to online learning, and her favorite class right now is Biology 101, particularly the lessons and discussions about evolution. Han said that, overall, the conversations between the students are still happening in the virtual realm as they had in the classroom — with the addition of pajamas.

Elon’s Global Education Center (GEC) is supporting the international students who have remained at Elon, and its International Student Ambassador Team is maintaining connections virtually through staffing open office hours and hosting online “Quarantime” events like a tea hour and movie screenings. Toby Finizio, the GEC’s graduate apprentice, compiles a monthly newsletter that provides information ranging from available counseling services to international students’ stories about how they’re managing through the pandemic.

Kristen Aquilino, associate director of international student services, pointed out that supporting Elon’s international students is an endeavor shared across the university, extending beyond the GEC. “Any offerings and services have been a community effort and will need to remain that way moving forward,” she said. “Students have been tremendously grateful for help, generous with each other and their communities and are flexible in taking things moment-to-moment as the world sorts through next steps.”

Isa Blanco Araujo ’20 is hard at work figuring out what’s next for her. The Venezuelan student is living off campus in Elon and she is uncertain about when she can go back to her home country, which closed its borders to everyone, including citizens. She had planned to stay and work in the United States during the next year, but those plans are on hold now. She doesn’t know if or when she’ll be able see all of the friends she’s made during her time at Elon before they move to the next stages of life following graduation.

“Everything is so unpredictable, and it can feel scary and overwhelming,” Blanco Araujo said. “Usually there are people who know more than you do, and you can find answers. But now we don’t have much of that.”

Despite the challenges, she emphasized that the feeling of community and support that initially drew her to come to Elon endures through the pandemic. “We’ve been so cared for,” Blanco Araujo said. “Everyone has been honest about what’s happening and we’ve been getting email updates from the GEC to let us know they’re available. The staff even offered to help me with groceries.”

Blanco Araujo said she’s appreciative of the parts of her life that are still in place. She still has her job in the Office of Admissions though it has shifted to remote work. Three of her closest friends are still at Elon, and they are all supporting one another. Elon’s campus is close by, offering a welcome refuge.

“I’ve been going on walks around campus a ton,” she said. “It’s really nice to lay in the grass in Young Commons and just soak up the sun. I’m grateful I can spend time enjoying our beautiful campus in spring, enjoying something that everyone else is missing out on.”