During the COVID-19 pandemic this fall, travel from overseas to a university in the US was unpredictable—but it helped to have a team looking out for you. After waiting in long queues and navigating delayed flights, twenty-three international students attending the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) arrived on campus for the fall semester—and immediately learned of a new two-week coronavirus quarantine requirement.
“We only found out the day before. Students were actually at the airport getting on a flight, thinking that they were going to one dormitory,” said UIC Global Managing Director Kali Heifetz. “Then they receive an email from me telling them that, after they arrive, they would have to go to another dormitory on the other side of campus. Quarantined, for two weeks.”
Heifetz and her team sprang into action. She gave the students her phone number and found them transportation to the university from the airport. The UIC Global team helped the new international students navigate campus upon arrival, gather the belongings they would need in quarantine, and got them to their temporary homes. UIC Global also made sure food was waiting for the students when they finally settled and even secured WiFi access.
“I’m a mom of two and I think about how I would feel if they went to India to study, and I had no idea as a parent what my kids were getting into,” said Heifetz. “First semester international students, if they don’t have their support network or a group of people to go to, where are [they] going to go? That’s why we’re here.”
What rules are in place to keep on-campus students safe during COVID-19?
UIC and the city of Chicago have enforced strict guidelines to help combat the spread of coronavirus. In addition to people coming to Chicago from other countries, many travelers from US states other than Illinois also have to quarantine for two weeks.
Students and faculty must wear masks on campus, and they also have saliva test protocols to follow. They also have to report their temperature as part of a brief, daily health questionnaire. (To see the many other coronavirus resources—from regulation information to helpful risk prevention FAQs—please visit the UIC website.)
I think [the] university has been very proactive. This is such a fluid issue, [but] they really do try their hardest [and] do everything they can for the students.” — Kali Heifetz, UIC Global managing director
Attending class at UIC during coronavirus
The majority of this semester’s incoming international students are starting their programs remotely through UIC Live, the university’s innovative digital learning platform. With UIC Live, international students learn from UIC faculty from home before smoothly transitioning to campus—with a few friends and a support network—when the time is right.
“[We hope] students will be on campus this spring, but for now they’re taking credits through UIC Live,” said Heifetz. With their UIC Live credits, they will then be able to start the second semester of their first year without missing a beat.
The class schedule for on-campus students has been modified to a hybrid in-person/digital schedule. According to Heifetz, around 80% of classes and group project meetings are digital. “The in-person classes are in classrooms that are quite large, where students have the ability to social distance,” she said.
UIC Global puts students first
Heifetz and her team at UIC Global have phone numbers for hundreds of students and they remain resources for former students who live in Chicago and beyond. In addition to the UIC Global offices, on-campus students are encouraged to download the UIC SAFE App, where they can access the UIC Healthcheck screening tool, and find out about on-campus saliva-based testing locations. Across the university and within the UIC Global community, international students have access to resources and staff that will help keep them safe while studying on campus.
“A lot of times in a university setting, you don’t get a response in three hours, you get a response in three days. We are very quick to respond—that’s something that we pride ourselves on—even if we don’t [yet] know the answer,” said Heifetz. “I’m the managing director of this program, but this is my jam! I love students.”
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