With the rapid spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus, Drake University President Marty Martin announced the closure of the school’s campus on March 25, following the example of hundreds of universities worldwide. With the shutting down of campus and recent border closures for multiple countries, many international students at Drake found themselves stranded and unable to return home.
While not ideal for most international students, according to Drake’s website, students do have the option to remain on campus and receive Grab N Go meals for the rest of the semester. Maria Tatarnikova, a junior from Russia, is just one of the 150 international students who has been stuck on Drake’s campus for the past two weeks. With few students around, she tried to maintain her normal routine as much as possible. Tatarnikova described her daily activities, which included working out, studying, talking to family and friends, walking outside and watching movies.
“It was nice to have some time to myself,” Tatarnikova said. “But I was so lucky I knew other international students here. I have no idea what it would be like to spend these days completely alone.”
Thandeka Nkomo, a sophomore from Zimbabwe, echoed Tatarnikova’s responses.
“I think that although the shutting down of campus was necessary in terms of virus prevention, Drake feels like an apocalyptic movie,” Nkomo said. “I have been by myself, stuck indoors and I only leave my room occasionally. Nothing feels like college anymore, just survival mode.”
Despite having more free time without the buzz and commotion of students on Drake’s campus, both students expressed concern about the virus and its impact on their families.
“What actually worries me now is the whole situation in the world. I’m super worried about my family and my friends back home,” Tatarnikova said. “Some of them live in really dangerous places and it hurts me that I can’t come right away. I just hope everyone will be safe and healthy soon.”
Nkomo expressed similar worries about returning home and their family.
“My concerns are when do I get to go home? How do I know if my parents and siblings back home are okay?” Nkomo said. “The questions I ask myself remind me of the anxiety that’s already felt globally and I feel on edge these days more than ever.”
While international students were hesitant to leave Drake’s campus in the past two weeks as a result of potentially losing their visa status, an email was sent out to international students March 25 from Kendra Hossain-Morehead, the director of international student and scholar services, offering reassurances to these concerns.
The email outlined that those who decide to leave the United States and complete their studies from home will still remain as an active status and their SEVIS record will not be terminated. Given this, students will maintain their visa status as long as they complete their courses of study.
International students will be able to re-enter the United States as normal at the end of summer for the beginning of the fall term. With the needed verification from the email, Tatarnikova booked her trip back home to Russia on March 27. She expressed her uncertainty about online school with a significant time change. However, she is grateful for Drake’s supportive faculty and staff, who are willing to work with her situation.
“I always try to be on top of things and plan everything, but I’m glad my professors all supported my situation and family issues,” Tatarnikova said. “Many of them have given me extra time to complete tests, and I’ve been trying to finish assignments ahead of time so I won’t miss anything important.”
Nkomo, though, was not so lucky. Unlike Russia, Zimbabwe closed its borders to the world, forcing Nkomo to find another place to stay. While she had the option to remain at Drake, she preferred to be with family and friends and flew to Texas to live with her cousins.
“I left campus just recently on March 29, which is very lucky as I know some people who don’t have family in the country,” Nkomo said. “It’s going to be quite an adjustment keeping up with my workload online, but I am blessed to have my cousins to entertain me.”
The Drake International Office is continuing to work with international students on and off-campus to make the transition to remote learning easy and manageable for everyone.