International students frustrated with financial uncertainties away from campus

International students have been facing financial challenges, travel bans and unemployment as the pandemic continues to keep many from returning to campus. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

As many in the USF community move into their third fully online semester, some international students are still facing unique dilemmas while attending classes across the sea. 

While still handling time zone issues and studying remotely, some international students are also facing financial hardships due to the pandemic. As the university prepares to disburse funds from the second federal stimulus bill to eligible students, international students are confronting uncertainty with future financial aid for the spring semester.

Despite the odds, Director of International Services Marcia Taylor said the office will begin discussing potential financial aid for international students in the upcoming weeks.

“We have recently learned that there will be additional discussions and better ways to raise money. We would ultimately like to raise enough money to have an endowed scholarship,” Taylor said. 

“And so we continue to cultivate donors through our international alumni officer project. And so our international alumni officer is connecting with tens of thousands of alumni outside the United States and trying to see if there’s a way we can add to endow a scholarship for both emergencies and just for normal purposes.”

As a way to provide financial relief to international students ineligible for federal financial support, USF World fundraised over $16,000 in donations in May, according to Kristen Zernick, assistant Director for Intercultural Programs. About 32 students received funds from the donation — a small portion of the total international student population of more than 5,000.

Kiki Caruson, interim vice president of USF World, said raising money for the population of international students is important for other types of emergencies.

“One of our goals is to, again, replenish this fund, so that we have a pot of money that can be used to support international students in crisis,” said Caruson.

“We’re just continuing to make people aware that the need remains. So we’re getting closer to perhaps being able to return to normalcy once vaccines are available, but this element of students having an episodic crisis will not go away, right? So it may not be pandemic related, but there will always be a need among our international student population for a fund that can help out in times of emergency.”

However, some international students have become frustrated because there are no official plans for additional funding yet.

Freshman health sciences student Chloé Pain from France said her mother, a school director, was not able to work for a while due to the pandemic. 

“As international students, we already can’t receive a lot of scholarships,” Pain said. “I think it’s stupid that we aren’t eligible [for federal funding], because we are as equally affected by the coronavirus as are all other students.”

Pain said she worked hard to help her parents with education costs but feels that her efforts have not paid off because of her limitations as an international student. 

“I came to the United States as a freshman in high school, barely speaking a word of English. During my high school years, I never stopped working, both with learning English and in my regular classes,” Pain said. 

“I just wish I could have somehow repaid my parents for all they did for me growing up, especially giving me this beautiful experience of moving across the Atlantic. That’s all.”

Many students were forced to leave their jobs in the U.S. as they went back to their countries, without a set date to return.

Julian Del Hoyo Tucci, a third-year finance major from Uruguay, said he lost the opportunity to participate in an accounting internship and secure an on-campus job. 

“The hardest part was that I actually got two jobs, but I had to reject them both because I was [in Uruguay] and I couldn’t complete the hiring process,” said Del Hoyo Tucci. “I found out that to work on campus, even if it’s remote, you have to be in the U.S. 

“I was planning on working remotely from [Uruguay], as a student assistant for the faculty of finance, and they actually gave me the job, but I couldn’t complete the hiring because of that. I had to be in the U.S.”

Before the new semester, some international students encountered challenges when arriving in the U.S. Jesus Dos Santos, a first-year student from Venezuela majoring in marketing, spent New Year’s in Panama alone, as it was the only way to obtain a student visa before classes started. 

“Because of [the poor connection], my family even considered sending me to the U.S. in the middle of the semester,” Dos Santos said. “But the airport in Venezuela was closed around the time we thought about it so I couldn’t travel.”

Due to similar travel restrictions, Gabriel Goldschmidt, a third-year mass communications and studio art student from Brazil, had to isolate in Chile for two weeks due to travel bans before being able to travel back to Tampa.

Besides the limited financial support offered last year, USF World and the Office of International Services remained in contact with students through virtual events, including movie nights, virtual tours, breakfast clubs and other spaces that encourage student interaction. 

Additionally, Taylor started a chat through Microsoft Teams with hundreds of students each week to answer questions about the upcoming semesters. 

“It was not perfect, I will be completely transparent, we have still not figured out how to make things accessible 24/7 to everyone,” Zernick said. “A big goal for my team this year is trying to create spaces that are asynchronous, but feel synchronous, and that you’ll get a response. And there might be conversation happening, but you can log in when it works for you.” 

Despite the difficulties brought by the pandemic, some international students said they were ready to start the new semester. Juan David Sefair, a first-year Colombian student majoring in management, said even though he has not been on campus, he already feels a part of the USF community. 

“I do feel like a Bull, because I have tried to get involved in associations such as [the Latin American Student Association], in esports through Twitch, so yes, I do feel like a Bull,” Sefair said. “Sometimes I also join the online yoga classes and I try to take advantage of those spaces that the university offers.” 

Caruson said that with fewer travel restrictions now compared to the fall, she is excited that more students will be on campus for the spring semester. 

“We are really thrilled that so many students who were not able to join us in the fall have been able to arrive [for the first week of classes] and will be here with us on campus in whatever way that is, either they’re living on campus, or they’re living off campus, but they’re part of our … Tampa Bay community,” she said. 

Caruson said USF World is also trying to ensure all of the students continuing their college careers from their home countries still feel connected to the community.

“There are some who have chosen to remain online for this semester and will join us summer or in fall,” Caruson said. “But we’re making every attempt to reach out to students to make sure that they’re connected with each other, and that they also know where to reach out to folks for individualized assistance, whether that be about academics or Student Health Services or counseling because I think a lot of students are feeling saddened by not being able to have that traditional college experience or the traditional campus experience.”

Despite the resources and activities offered remotely, some international students like Del Hoyo Tucci can’t help but feel dispirited because they miss being at USF and hanging out with friends on campus. 

“I miss being [on campus and] I don’t think there’s anything that can replace actually being [on campus],” Del Hoyo Tucci said. “I can’t think of anything that the university can do to help me with that. I just miss my friends there.”