By Kaylee Franklin
For some students, this semester looks different than any other. International students are taking classes at Trevecca from all across the world. Students from Honduras, Trinidad, and Thailand carry the burden.
“A lot of our international students aren’t here on campus, some of them are studying elsewhere. We’ve been working on making sure they feel involved and helping them feel prepared for whatever comes next,’’ said Brodrick Thomas, director of community engagement and reconciliation.
When the university decided to go fully online due to the pandemic starting in mid-March, international students struggled to find a way home. The university went into overdrive and immediately began finding ways to help these students in particular. The university helped international students by funding tickets to their home countries, creating jobs, and working with the Department of Homeland Security to recomply student visas.
As the new school year began to inch closer, students and faculty began wondering what the semester would bring. When university officials began thinking up ways to get everyone back on campus, an obstacle would be getting international students back to the hill.
Due to the global pandemic, all embassies remained closed from March to early August with phased reopenings. This created turbulence for students. Returning students would have trouble getting back into the United States with boarders being closed and new international students would have trouble attaining a student visa.
“During the pandemic, the United Sates Embassy shut down so the virus wouldn’t spread among their consulates in other countries, when this happened, incoming freshman weren’t able to interview for their student visas, in turn not being able to get into the country. It usually takes up to two months to get an interview, so they didn’t even have shot,’’ said Thomas.
With students not able to make it back to campus, faculty members came together to create the Bridge Semester. A semester in which new undergraduate freshman can attend all of their classes asynchronously. The Bridge Semester consists of taking core classes: Speech Communications, Life Calling and Purpose, Health and Wellness, and other additional courses. Bridge students attend all their classes online through Blackboard with assignment deadlines throughout the week.
As the director of new student programs, Megan McGhee works at pairing peer mentors to the Life Calling and Purpose LINK groups. Every freshman is required to take the course and it is intended to feel like a small knit community to begin the semester with.
“For our bridge students, they’re not sitting in a classroom with other students, all of their classroom instruction and material all happen through Blackboard. It’s just them and their computer.” said Megan McGhee, director of new student programs. “It’s been a much more difficult time for them to build community with people at Trevecca.”
The Bridge semester allows students to come back to campus whenever they feel ready and are able to- McGhee had one student from Africa arrive to campus two weeks ago. It’s just a matter of time.
“With the bridge program we created, students can now take their fall courses from their home country while also studying alongside residential students,’’ said Thomas. “At the end of this semester, we can redo the visa process, the student can sit down for an interview, and then join us on campus for their spring semester of their freshman year.”
For some students, it really is all up to time, but time and distance takes a strain on connecting. For senior Kavannah Manswell, the Trevecca community looks different than it has ever before.
“Apart from helping with the Chapel Planning Team, I don’t feel connected at all. In terms of schoolwork and class instruction, I don’t feel as if I even go to Trevecca. I feel like I just turn in assignments whenever I can,’’ said Kavannah Manswell, senior music education major.
Being from Trinidad, Manswell has had trouble returning to the states and back to Trevecca. She looks forward to the Chapel Livestreams every week because she knows she can enter the chat bubble and be right there with the Trevecca community. She looks forward to being back on campus for the spring semester of her senior year.
“It’s been a hard time on our international students, we’ve all been through a lot but they’re really carrying the burden,” Thomas said. “They go through so much more than what a normal student has to go through and we’re doing everything in our power to get them back on campus with us.”