Picnics on the Horseshoe. Baseball games at Founders Park. Seniors gathered in Colonial Life Arena for graduation. These are the joyous events spring semester should bring. However, to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the last year has looked very different. Instead of walking to class on the University of South Carolina’s (UofSC) historic campus, international students are sitting at desks in their residence hall.
For the well-being of its students during the novel coronavirus outbreak, the University of South Carolina opted to transition to virtual instruction for the remainder of the spring semester and into the summer. Although this was disappointing news to many, UofSC students are relying on their “boundless resilience,” a motto repeated by University President Robert Caslen, to get through this challenging time.
Online studies and social distancing can be even more challenging for students who are already thousands of miles away from home. UofSC’s International Accelerator Program (IAP) is designed to help students in the transition from high school in their home country to university life in the United States. This usually involves encouraging students to get involved on campus, helping them decide which major to study, and offering tips for making American friends, but this semester required a little more creativity.
In an effort to foster student connectivity from the confinement of their residence halls, IAP Student Service Advisor Angi Wang created a variety of online events for international students to participate in, including “Trivia Games with Lanie,” “NBA Game Watch Party with Sam,” and “Lunch with the IAP team and their Pets.” These online hangouts give students something to think about other than academics and the current health crisis.
Wang also created a Discord server with channels dedicated to hangouts, drop-in advising, and updates with the latest announcements. IAP weekly virtual events have included a culture shock workshop, yoga day, art day, soccer watch party, “among us” game day, and more.
Rhonda, a Master of International Hospitality and Tourism Management student from Vietnam, said, “…there are always IAP staff members checking on us to see whether we need any technical help in class or tutoring or if we are bored in our room, so they can create some activities for us.” She has also participated in many of the virtual events. “I really enjoyed this period of time,” she said. “We laughed and gave ourselves a break from this difficult period.”
The transition has not been without its hardships, though. Many students find it difficult to create a daily routine, exercise, and keep a supply of groceries and necessities. The IAP has been able to help students by sharing advice in weekly newsletters and through daily interactions, offering resources for grocery delivery, online fitness classes, and how to make other services more easily accessible. The IAP has also stressed the importance of self-care and finding ways to stay optimistic during this time by encouraging students to maintain their mental health, as well as physical health.
While it is true that studying during the coronavirus has not been the college experience many may have dreamed of, UofSC students have set their sights on the months to come and how they will enjoy their university experience even more after living without it. As Rhonda says, “I didn’t notice before, but thanks to this social-distancing period, I realized how much I miss ‘normal life’ when I can go to school to represent my culture, discover new places, walk under blossomed trees in our university, and really see and talk to people face to face.”
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