Since Connecticut’s partial lockdown in March due to growing COVID-19 concerns, tensions have been on the rise; however, the global pandemic has had even greater consequences on our community’s international students. Since 2014, Kingswood Oxford has had a long-standing tradition of accepting students from across the globe. Most recently, international students have come from China, South Korea, and Spain, and they have all been affected by the spread of the coronavirus.
Sophomore Charles Zhao from China explained that the pandemic has influenced him in too many ways to fully explain. One of the major concerns he noted was the restriction of international travel. “After restrictions were announced by both China and the U.S. in January, everything has become so unreliable,” Charles said. “Now the ticket prices are over $30,000 [USD] per seat for the economic class, and because there are only a handful of flights, the majority of us simply cannot get a ticket even if we had the money.”
Charles considers himself rather fortunate, as his mother is able to stay with him in the U.S. This is unlike some of our international students who still, unfortunately, remain geographically separated from their families. While several international students have been lucky enough to return home and reconnect with family, another consequence of the pandemic is the tightened border control. Since January, the U.S. government has denied entry to non-US citizens with no end in the near future. “For those who were lucky enough to return to China,” Charles said, “it is unknown whether or not they will be able to come back [to school] next year.”
Like many other students finding themselves with a surplus of free time, Charles has taken up a new hobby. Via the popular Chinese social media app “WeChat,” Charles has been publishing his own articles in Chinese. “The feedback has been pretty good so far,” Charles said. “The views just accumulated over 100,000, and a good number of people followed me.” On his account, Charles has posted articles on a wide array of topics including U.S. perspectives of the pandemic.
The international students typically stay with a host family for about nine to 10 months each year. The international application process is the same as the domestic one, with the key difference being the involvement of a third-party agency such as Nacel Open Door, Apex International Education Program, or Ivy.
Junior Felix Fei, from China, decided to study in the U.S. when he was in seventh-grade. “I decided to come because it was recommended by my parents and brother,” Felix said. “Studying internationally dragged me out of my comfort zone, but thanks to studying abroad, I am able to see things more openly and think with less partiality.”
Many students described a sort of “cultural shock” when they first arrived. “It was quite difficult, as I expected,” Felix said. “Almost everything here is different from my hometown, from the school system to the culture. Thus, the feeling of being a foreigner is much more obvious than when I was simply traveling here.”
KO’s education can be described as very different from the curriculums of other countries, such as China. While the core subjects are similar – consisting of math, science, language, history, etc. – the learning approach is quite different. Many international students point out the smaller class sizes that KO has, as well as a more interactive based teaching style, as prominent differences.
“The assignments come in more variety and the grades are less test-dependent here in the U.S., while in my home country they are purely made up of test scores,” Felix said. “Sports are significantly more valued and more subjects are offered here. Other than the subjects offered, almost every other thing is different from education in my home country.”
Living far from home in a completely foreign country is by no means an easy task and requires a great deal of courage, especially during a global pandemic. Our community’s international students have sacrificed much to broaden their horizons and pursue their studies. Especially during these tough tough times, they need our support now more than ever.