The international student experience amidst the pandemic

by Sanjana Sivakumar

UCLA holds one of the most diverse student bodies on its campus, with around 10.40% of freshman undergraduates being international students from over 140 different countries in the 2021-2022 academic year, according to the UCLA Academic Planning and Budget. Surprisingly, the number of international students who have been admitted has been fairly constant with previous years, even with the pandemic as a factor.

For international students, the transitions during these past few years have been some of the toughest yet. Not only do they have to worry about the nuances of traveling to a new country, but they also have to worry about the pandemic that continues to rage on. However, among all of the uncertainties, they have decided to brave a new environment.

International students have many reasons for applying to and attending UCLA. Some choose to attend for the reputation of the college while others for a new cultural experience.

Monique Wong, a first-year international student from Hong Kong, chose to attend UCLA due to the proximity to her family members. This, during the pandemic, proved to be quite beneficial. “I think I’m quite fortunate since I have family here. Some other international students are really alone here,” Wong said.

Many international students were excited to travel, explore different cultures and attend their first year of college in person; however, due to the pandemic, plans had to be adjusted or delayed.

Zhanhao Zhang, a first-year pre-business economics student from Shenzhen, Guangdong, China, chose to attend his first fall quarter through online courses.

“I’ve been taking remote classes in my first year. But I think it was better than I anticipated, like online classes in general,” Zhang said. “(Professors) know that classes are online, they’re remote, so they try to all have recorded classes. They have all held many office hours to try to help us. The TAs were also very helpful. So, I think academically it was great.”

Unfortunately, students like Zhang who are taking remote classes are unable to join many of the clubs and organizations that are offered at UCLA.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in many clubs and other activities because I’m in China. That’s a problem. But it’s okay since it’s only the first quarter, but I’m looking forward to the rest of my time at UCLA,” Zhang said.

Amidst the pandemic, most students have had to balance their desire for social interactions with their safety. However, for some students, the fall quarter held a semblance of normality as universities opened many in-person activities.

Wilson Zheng, a first-year biology student from Ontario, Canada, said, “I think the biggest thing is interacting with friends and individuals from my class. The experience is just different when everyone is an icon instead of a 3D person.”

“In-person (class) is way superior, but that’s just my opinion, as personally I quite like waking up earlier and getting to class. While it’s tiring, it’s very rewarding,” Zheng continued. “It also builds a pretty good structure for how you want to approach your day. That has been glossed over with online learning as I wake up, I get breakfast and I sit in front of the computer the entire day doing work… everything is on the same screen.”

However, due to the pandemic, international students seem to be caught in a predicament, especially since they have to pay the same amount for tuition as out-of-state students. Now, with the constant fluctuation of the pandemic between online and in-person classes, it has been extremely unconventional for students.

“International students are needed to pay the same as out-of-state students, so like we pay extra, but then we’re having online lessons right now. So I didn’t quite really expect that. (But) it’s alright,” Wong said.

Hopes are high for all students, as UCLA plans to fully reopen again during the spring quarter.

“I came here ’cause I wanted to experience a different culture as well, so I prefer in-person, in that way. ‘Cause I can meet more new people and see how it was in college. But then COVID’s here… I hope we can have in-person class during the spring quarter,” Wong said.

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