When the pandemic shuttered colleges, many international students had no idea where to live or whether they would ever be able to return to class.
“When universities abruptly shut down last month because of the coronavirus pandemic, many students returned to their parents’ homes, distraught over having to give up their social lives and vital on-campus networking opportunities. Graduating seniors lost the chance to cross anything but a virtual commencement stage.
But the campus closures have created much greater calamity in the lives of the more than a million international students who left their home countries to study in the United States. Many had been living in college dorms and were left to try to find new housing, far from home in a country under lockdown.
A substantial number of international students are also watching their financial lives fall apart: Visa restrictions prevent them from working off campuses, which are now closed. And while some come from families wealthy enough to pay for their housing or whisk them home, many others had already been struggling to cobble together tuition fees that tend to be much higher than those paid by Americans.
As their bank accounts dwindle, some international students say they have had to turn to food banks for help. Others are couch surfing in the family homes of their friends but do not know how long they will be welcome. Those who rushed to fly home before international borders closed are not sure they will be able to come back.
“My world is shattering,” said Elina Mariutsa, a Russian student studying international affairs and political science at Northeastern University whose parents sold an apartment and borrowed money from friends to pay for her previous semesters of college.
She is all but certain that, with the Russian ruble’s recent rapid devaluation amid the current global economic collapse, her family will be unable to pay the $27,000 bill for her final semester of college — let alone help her with living expenses now.
“I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to graduate. Right now we definitely can’t pay for the last semester, and it’s literally just four courses left,” she said.”
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