When borders started closing and travel restrictions began in the early Spring of 2020, Ball State’s international students had already arrived in Muncie to start their semester. International Services was fortunate to welcome both new and returning students and have a relatively normal start to 2020. In March, that all changed. Ball State switched to fully online instruction, and our office began operating remotely. Students made last-minute plans to return to their home countries, completing their semesters from outside the US.
US Embassies and Consulates worldwide closed their doors, making it impossible for new students to obtain visas or for current students to renew visas. Much of the 2020-2021 school year was spent tracking students and providing guidance as they completed coursework online, both outside and within the US. Students repeatedly deferred their admissions, hoping that “in a few months,” the situation would improve, and they would be able to obtain a visa and enter the US.
Unfortunately, “in a few months” became a year for much of the world, with US consulates and embassies slowly reopening for visa interviews during the Summer of 2021. In some areas, facilities remained closed or operated in such limited capacities that interviews were scheduled for as late as a year later.
Current students made tough decisions to stay in the US and forego seeing family members or risk traveling home and getting caught in constantly changing quarantine requirements and border closures. Financial support systems disappeared overnight, as students learned that loved ones who had agreed to support their studies were forced to close businesses or lost their incomes due to lockdowns. Students lost family members and friends and were unable to travel due to COVID’s impact. From spring 2020 to fall 2021, RCGA has offered more than 35 students financial assistance, totaling over $119,000. Many of these students would not have been able to continue their studies without our support.
Despite the ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, International Services is happy to announce an incoming group of 123 new students for the Fall 2021 semester, with 107 of those students enrolling in on-campus programs. We are all extremely pleased that more students could join us this year, with the reopening of consulates worldwide and the growing availability of vaccines. We are even happier about the vast diversity represented by our student population this year. Our new students represent 45 individual countries and cover each of the six populated continents, with 28 students from Africa, 19 from the Americas, 59 from Asia, 15 from Europe, and two from Oceania. Our entire international student population represents even greater diversity, adding 25 countries to our total.
Although quarantine guidelines and vaccine availability led to the use of an entirely virtual Orientation once again this year, we are eagerly anticipating a series of in-person activities throughout the Fall semester to welcome our new students into our international community. These activities include mini-golf and ice cream, a trip to a local pumpkin patch and corn maze, and bowling right here in the Student Center. As restrictions continue to dissipate and facilities reopen, we look forward to welcoming more students and hosting more events for our Ball State international community.