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On-campus international students grapple with high stakes for a successful semester

September 18, 2020

With the semester well underway, the looming possibility of the College experiencing an emergency closure and sending all residents home is a persistent threat. For international students living on campus, this threat raises a number of questions regarding embassy closures, time differences and access to technology in their home countries.

Many international students, once presented with the opportunity, elected to stay on campus when it closed in March and have not left since.

Katie Filiakova ’22, who is from Russia, has been on campus since the College went fully remote in March. Filkova has stayed in the United States for numerous reasons, including extreme and unsustainable time differences which make online learning difficult and barriers in accessing online coursework.

“I feel like people don’t really realize that, for example, you cannot order books because no one is going to deliver to Russia and more than half of Bowdoin’s websites are blocked in Russia. I don’t know why, but I cannot even access Polaris, for example,” Filiakova said.

With few options for a feasible educational experience other than staying in College housing, international students interact with campus differently than domestic students who do not have extenuating circumstances, including many first-year students. These worries are only heightened after incidents such as the unauthorized Farley Field gathering occur on campus.

“Staying on campus is more high stakes for us internationals for a number of reasons. We’re here because we want our education to be as best as possible, and I wouldn’t be able to do that from home,” Nirhan Nurjadin ’21 of Indonesia said.“We’re taking the situation seriously. We’re not seeing this as a joke. And we’re trying to be as smart as possible with the code of conduct. It’s frustrating to see that not be the guiding principle for a lot of first years’ decisions—like the Farley incident—because their decisions are directly affecting our lives.”

For international students without concrete plans for a hypothetical scenario in which they would be required to leave campus, the thought of a complete closure causes many of them to feel hopeless and helpless.

“It’s just this feeling that I am not welcome literally anywhere. I’m getting kicked out of the U.S. but … Russian borders are also closed,” Filiakova explained. “So I literally could not even physically come back even if I wanted to. Where do I even go if I get kicked out of here and borders are closed in my home country?”

Lemona Niu ’23 of China and Nurjadin have also been on campus since March and share a similar sentiment regarding the uncertainty of travel between their home countries and the United States if the College were to close.

The College promised international students that they will be able to stay on campus in the event of an emergency closure, but not after the campus officially closes on November 23. This decision was made after numerous Town Hall meetings in both the spring and the fall after international students were initially excluded from both COVID-19 campus plans.

Filiakova cited Khoa Khuong, the international student adviser and associate dean of upperclass students, as international students’ primary resource throughout the many difficult situations they have recently faced.

“Dean Khuong has done so much for us this summer and throughout the years here, but he’s also the only one,” said Filiakova. “I feel like he’s the only one who actually cares and who tries to do things for us. Only after the petition to address international students went around did the school agree to do a town hall. So it is only because of pressure from actual students to say that we are also humans that they agree to take us into consideration. We are clearly an afterthought.”


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