SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Some students may have dread coming back to school, but then there are those who never thought they would be on campus again.
Trisha Leong from Malaysia and Jonas Junnior from Belém, in the Brazilian state of Pará, are from different parts of the world, yet they still have a few things in common. For starters, they are graduate students. Leong is studying communications and Junnior is pursuing a master’s degree in computer science.
Both say they wish they could’ve been in Springfield sooner, but COVID-19 got in the way.
“I actually was supposed to be here for my master’s last year,” Junnior said.” “There was a way for us to come here. We could’ve gone to another country and spend 14 days in quarantine. But it wasn’t affordable for me to do all that going around.”
Instead, Junnior’s family spent 2020 saving money so he could afford a trip to the U.S.
“It kind of helped us to get around things and save up for me to come to America in 2021,” Junnior said.
The U.S. also made things easier on him by putting international students from a select number of countries under a National Interest Exception (NIE). An NIE allows qualified travelers who are applying for or have a visa, to come to the States.
“We were allowed to come straight to the U.S. without needing to go to another country,” Junnior said. “We needed to have an F-1 student visa.”
Junnior and Leong had a similar travel experience.
“It was about three weeks of quite a bit of stress,” Leong said.
They had to test negative for COVID-19 before boarding their flights.
“I just was nervous,” Leong said. “My mom came with me. It was nerve-wracking to be in the airport and not know what you may get.”
Junnior had to wait five hours to get his results back.
“That was one of the things I was really scared about,” Junnior said. “Even though I didn’t have any symptoms I still got nervous. I kept waiting.”
When they landed, they had to quarantine and take another test before getting to campus.
“When I got it in my hands and it said negative, I said, ‘Okay. I’m cool. I’m fine. I can go,” Junnior said.
Finally, Junnior and Leong made it to MSU.
“It feels amazing,” Junnior said. “I’m finally starting my master’s. I’m finally trying to grow up as a professional. That sensation really makes me happy. Classes started and I already have some homework to do. Finally getting back to that school environment to learn new things is really comforting. It makes me smile.”
“It’s so exciting,” Leong said. “I was able to attend the international student orientation two weeks ago in person. That was very energizing because I have never been around so many people for quite a bit of time. Just being around so many cultures and other students was very energizing. I loved it.”
Brad Bodenhausen, MSU’s associate vice president of international education and training, says as of this week, the campus has students from 91 countries.
“This year we’ve monitored visa approvals,” Bodenhausen said. “That’s been the determining factor on whether or not students are able to make it here. It’s different according to each country. We spend a lot of time staying in touch through social media, email and whatever means we can to get updated information on the status of those students.”
Bodenhausen says MSU has around 1300 international students. Plenty of them are from India and other countries in South Asia.
When the University gets an official count for the fall semester, he says he thinks there will be more than 1500 students – half on campus and the other half studying online or in China.
“The idea for us is about global engagement,” Bodenhausen said. “Global engagement can happen here in Springfield as well as somewhere else around the world. The more countries that are represented and the more international cultures, it’s a chance for us to learn from those students as they share their culture. As they learn about life in the Midwest and Springfield. They also bring something to us that’s very valuable: an opportunity for all of us on campus and here in the community to learn from them as well.”