by Brianna Forte

Due to the complications related to the COVID-19 pandemic, international students at Florida Tech had major decisions to make when it came to their travel plans and method of learning for the fall semester. 

International students were faced with a series of options for this fall semester as travel restrictions, visa issues, and COVID-19 precautions were taken into consideration. 

When classes switched to online in March, some international students decided to return home. 

“First, I planned to stay until the end of the semester, but when our government announced that they will close the borders of Hungary [my family and I] decided the best for me was to go back home,” explained Liza Lutter, a junior majoring in biology from Budapest, Hungary.

Since returning to their home countries, some students now have to deal with the global travel restrictions that have been installed in response to COVID-19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, travelers from China, Iran, European Schengen area, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, or Brazil are prohibited from entering the United States.

Students who cannot return to in-person classes for the fall semester have been able to attend online classes synchronously or asynchronously. 

Brian Ehrlich, vice president of enrollment management, reported that as of Aug. 28 there are 381 international students across all levels of learning that have requested remote access.

“I decided to take classes online because I want to see how Florida Tech can control the COVID-19 situation,” said Lutter.

The only issue Lutter has encountered so far is with her internet connection, “but the problem is with my internet usually so it’s not the school’s fault.”

Nicole Rautemberg, a sophomore majoring in business from Asunción, Paraguay shared her difficulties adjusting to online learning. 

“For me it’s hard to understand english, and I feel like I learn more in a classroom setting because I can ask questions and I won’t be afraid of speaking out,” Rautemberg said.

Although Florida Tech has provided many options for international students, there is a decline in enrollment among international students from this fall semester compared to the fall semester of 2019. 

According to Ehrlich, the number of enrolled international students for this year is just over 1,300, which is close to last year’s number of approximately 1,500 students. Ehrlich emphasized that official university numbers don’t come out until the census in September, meaning the numbers may vary.

“I’m positive and encouraged by the number. And I think a lot of that has to do with the offering remote access to people that couldn’t get here,” said Ehlrich.

In addition to those adjusting to online learning, there are also international students who opted to stay within the United States this summer so that they could attend in-person classes. 

Over the summer, junior Marcello Mattei explained that he wanted to go home to Caracas, Venezuela but could not because the COVID-19 pandemic lead to the Venezuelan border being closed. 

Gregory Dunn, a sophomore majoring in aeronautical science with flight from Kingston, Jamaica explained the difficulty of deciding to stay in the United States over the summer.

“That decision to stay in the U.S. means I won’t be able to see my family and friends back home until December and that’s only if the pandemic eases up. This is one that has been made by many other international students as well,” said Dunn.

Another huge issue that international students are running into is obtaining a visa interview among the rising freshmen class. In order to conduct a visa interview, prospective students must go to a U.S. embassy, many which were closed during the summer due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“A number of students that have been admitted are not able to complete the embassy interview process, which is a critical component of receiving a visa,” Ehrlich explained.

Admitted students unable to obtain their visa were instructed to defer their entry into the U.S. to spring 2021, according to Ehrlich.

Erin Graham, from Johannesburg, South Africa, had to defer her entry.

Graham had a visa appointment scheduled for July 6, which was then cancelled and moved to July 30, before it was cancelled again. 

The cancellation “made it impossible for me to make it on time for my fall semester,” Graham said.

Graham explained that COVID-19 may have also affected the attitudes of some international students. 

“I think COVID-19 has made international students a lot more cautious in the idea of going to study abroad, as many of us will have even less time or chances to visit our families due to flight restrictions,” Graham said.

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