In 2019, more than a thousand UAB students were from other countries. Now, many of those same students are facing complicated challenges and questions due to the global coronavirus pandemic, says Melissa Hawkins, international teaching and learning specialist at the UAB Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL).
“Some are feeling pressure from parents or governments about the need to return home, but most decisions about going home are deeply complicated by questions about airport closures and border-crossing issues,” Hawkins continued.
Staff at INTO UAB have noted higher symptoms of depression and anxiety in INTO UAB students, specifically those from South Korea and China; many international students are isolated in residence halls or apartments without much interaction or support.
“Students may need groceries but may not know about Blazer Kitchen or about the possibility of ordering groceries online,” Hawkins said. “Many international students also do not have transportation.”
“Many students are now operating with a heightened sense of needing to know the proper order of how to handle daily life right now. Not knowing, and fear of behaving in an inappropriate manner accidentally during times of social upheaval, can cause great stress.”
It’s important to remember, Hawkins continues, that many of us are confronting the same kinds of issues as international students — and that shared sense of community can bring us together.
“For students who are coming from high-context cultures, as many of ours are, there is a sense of safety in knowing how to act in an environment, how to get things done and what roles and actions are and are not appropriate,” said Amy Snow, academic director of the Office of Global Engagement’s English Language Programs (ELP). “Many students are now operating with a heightened sense of needing to know the proper order of how to handle daily life right now. Not knowing, and fear of behaving in an inappropriate manner accidentally during times of social upheaval, can cause great stress.”
UAB has many means through which employees can help international students adjust to remote instruction and social uncertainty, from participating in CTL seminars to connecting isolated students with INTO UAB resources. Read below for five ways to support international students during the coronavirus crisis.
1. Direct international students to use INTO UAB’s resources, including the INTO UAB/International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) Virtual Welcome Desk.
Regardless of whether international students are affiliated with INTO UAB, all are welcome to use their welcome desk, which can connect students to immigration information, resources for special services such as free storage with U-Haul and discount hotel rates and more.
“It’s easy to feel lost in large classes anyway, but large classes meeting remotely can exacerbate that experience further. Ask personal questions and establish personal interactions instead of just transactional."
“The Virtual Welcome Desk is serving as a one-stop shop for international students right now, and you can encourage students to start there,” says Kyle Bailey, director of student experience at INTO UAB.
“Reminding any international student in your sphere of influence that INTO UAB’s resources are available to all UAB’s international students could be a kind and helpful action,” he said.
2. Reach out individually to students to connect socially and ensure they have the resources they need.
Even if faculty are teaching large, lecture-based courses, Susan Blazer, ELP program manager, recommends reaching out individually and offering Zoom meetings to international students who are feeling uncertain.
“It’s easy to feel lost in large classes anyway, but large classes meeting remotely can exacerbate that experience further,” Blazer said. “Ask personal questions and establish personal interactions instead of just transactional.”
“The Virtual Welcome Desk is serving as a one-stop shop for international students right now.”
If a student you know might be food-insecure, direct them to UAB’s food bank, Blazer Kitchen, which is providing pre-packed bags vis a drive-thru at Medical Towers noon-6 p.m. Wednesdays.
Additionally, check to ensure students have access to a computer or other device appropriate to online learning and a reliable internet connection. Drive-in Wi-Fi is now available for students in Express Lot No. 4, and Charter is offering free access to Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi for 60 days to K-12 and college students. UAB also has a limited number of computers available for loan for currently enrolled students who do not have access to one.
3. Give to the SGA COVID-19 Emergency Fund.
Many international students have parents who cannot work during the coronavirus crisis, and tuition has become a challenge — especially for those from developing countries, Hawkins says.
Help provide emergency aid to students affected by the coronavirus pandemic by supporting the Student Government Association COVID-19 Emergency Grant program. The Undergraduate Student Government Association (USGA) allocated $15,000 to begin the grant, which was joined by contributions from Student Affairs and the Graduate Student Government. Gifts to the program help offset lost wages, emergency relocation expenses and other COVID-19-related financial hardships.
4. Encourage both international and domestic students to enroll in a conversation practice program.
INTO UAB’s Language Partners program is a language- and cultural-exchange program where international students can meet with native English-speakers for friendship and language practice. The program, now meeting via Zoom, provides a formal structure for international students to socialize with Americans and is even more popular during this time, “as connection is an even stronger-felt need,” Hawkins said.
“Learn more about the home cultures of your international students, the influence of cross-cultural differences on the classroom experience and ways that you can tweak your teaching practice to make your classroom friendly to international students.”
For UAB’s domestic students, the program provides cross-cultural communication practice and enables them to meet students from different cultures — and perhaps practice a language they are studying as well. Students and employees who are interested in participating should contact Xinyu Zhai at email@example.com.
5. Improve your global awareness through CTL seminars.
Take advantage of the Center for Teaching and Learning’s Global Awareness workshop series, which provides teaching strategies, tips and tools for working with international students and a solid foundation for intercultural awareness, understanding and effectiveness.
“In these workshops, you can learn more about the home cultures of your international students, the influence of cross-cultural differences on the classroom experience and ways that you can tweak your teaching practice to make your classroom friendly to international students,” Hawkins said.