“It has been a rather difficult semester for our international student population,” said Thomas Beard, who directs UofL’s International Student and Scholar Services.
Flight cancellations. Closed embassies. Confusing paperwork. Health concerns. Restrictions on travel. Worried parents.
Those are just a few of the challenges international students have grappled with amid the pandemic. For the fall semester, Beard and his team were expecting 154 international students. Instead, there are just 55.
“To be honest, I am thrilled with the 55, considering all the closed embassies/consulates and the travel restrictions,” Beard said.
School of Public Health and Information Sciences doctoral student Aravind Reddy Kothagadi was one of those 55 international scholars who navigated COVID-19 restrictions to attend UofL.
Kothagadi, a medical doctor who previously worked in rural areas of India, found it especially onerous to make travel plans.
“Only one carrier was operating flights between India and the U.S.” said Kothagadi, who arrived the day before classes started. “I am glad that I could finally make it in time.”
Kothagadi said his parents were concerned, but supportive, about his plans to pursue a degree overseas. After all, he was no stranger to international travel and study: he previously earned a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School and a master’s degree in biomedical and health informatics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Even so, his parents were worried.
“I assured my parents that I understood their concerns and would take all necessary precautions,” he said. “I am very passionate about pursuing my PhD and determined to take this chance.”
But just two weeks into the semester, Kothagadi got bad news from home: both parents had fallen ill to COVID-19 and were in the hospital.
“I felt devastated,” he said.
Amid his apprehension, Kothagadi’s UofL family helped him through the crisis. Both parents have now fully recovered.
“My mentor, Dr. Bert Little, and my faculty and colleagues here in SPHIS were a pillar of support during this time,” said Kothagadi, whose current research work includes developing COVID-19 projections for Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.
Beard is inspired by such stories of collegial comradery.
He has found that—despite the additional paperwork and headaches his staff has endured due to the pandemic—there’s a silver lining.
“International students are displaying their resiliency and adaptability, the students find new ways to connect, either through meeting virtually, finding new hobbies, taking advantage of university resources or talking with ISSS coordinators,” he said. “The ISSS team has become closer with the fall 2020 incoming students, in large part because of the uncertainty, and it has been a pleasure working with these students more closely, getting to know each student and helping them find normalcy even during a pandemic.”