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International students struggle with obstacles from travel, housing

By Nancy Bowne
Staff Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic forced college campuses to close amidst stay-at-home orders worldwide, including the College, which closed in mid-March. But for some students, the College was a better alternative than returning to their hometowns.

Some students requested to stay on campus for either personal and health-related reasons, such as lack of WiFi or fear of infecting family members. Meanwhile, many international students wanted to get home to their families despite travel bans and the possibility that the restrictions in their home countries might be more intense than the U.S.

Ismael Rinaldo-Montero, a freshman biomedical engineering major, was one of the international students who were able to get back home to Spain — but for him, the penalties where he lives come at a higher cost. 

“The conditions here are worse than in the U.S.,” Rinaldo-Montero said. “We are not allowed to leave our house. If the police see you walking on the street and you weren’t going to the supermarket or going to work you get fined between $600 and $30,000.”  

In addition to re-adjusting to his country’s restrictions, continuing to attend classes has also become a challenge.

“My sleeping schedule is a little messed up because I go to bed at 3 or 4 a.m. every day to try and keep an American time schedule,” he said. “It makes it a bit hard to have lunch and dinner with my family.”

But not every student had the ability to pack up and go home an obstacle that the College had to quickly overcome.

There are currently less than 30 students remaining on campus as of April 6, according to Kelly Hennessey, the interim assistant vice president for student services and student affairs.

“We originally had over 150 requests to remain on campus for a variety of reasons,” Hennessey said. “Requests included being an international student, lack of WiFi at home and significant personal reasons.”

The issue of WiFi accessibility was addressed by the College in order to reduce the need for students to remain on campus. The College purchased and provided WiFi for all students in this situation, as well as loaned out computers to students in need, according to Hennessey.

Almost all students living on campus officially moved out of the College’s dorms after an abrupt end to the semester (

As far as the students remaining on campus, Hennessey assured that the College is taking care of them. 

“The Dean of Students Office has been checking in twice a week with all students that remain on campus to both keep them connected to staff, but also to understand needs that they might have,” she said.

Joanne Bateup, the assistant director of exchange partnerships and international services, helps guide the I-House program at the College, where full-time students at the College and international study-abroad students live together and complete seminars and community events.

“The majority of the TCNJ international students (as reported on April 13) have remained in the U.S., but are not staying in on-campus housing,” she said. “Anecdotally, we have heard of students staying with family members around the U.S. and would anticipate that most students either remained in their off-campus housing or are staying with friends and family.” 

According to Bateup, international travel for students may continue to cause difficulty going into the fall semester.

“The hardest decision facing an international student is weighing the decision to remain in the U.S. or return home after the spring semester concludes,” Bateup said. “Many governments, including ours, have restricted international travel, and the ability for students to return to the U.S. for fall study may be impacted if travel restrictions remain the same come August.”


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