Approximately 7,000 miles away in the Philippines, sophomore Audrey Mallari jolted awake to the sound of her 4:30 a.m. alarm. After splashing water on her face and preparing for the long day ahead, she opened Zoom, starting with a 5 a.m. architecture studio class. 

This is a typical morning for many international students at Cal Poly. International students taking classes abroad have navigated a host of issues during the pandemic, such as travel restrictions, time difference and uncertainty. 

Architecture sophomore Lydia Rosenthal, who lives in Canada, felt the stress of a potential border closure. 

“I was going to leave the Saturday after finals week, but we kept pushing it earlier and earlier,” Rosenthal said. “I left on a Monday and the border closed a few days later, so if I had stayed in the U.S. it would have been complicated, or I wouldn’t have been able to see my parents.”

According to international student advisor Bianca Silva, “[Cal Poly] currently has just under 330 students from 61 countries around the world. As of fall quarter, the majority of students were still in the United States and around 80 were enrolled in online classes from outside the U.S.,” said Silva. 

For computer science sophomore Mohamed Feroz, who lives in Qatar, he missed his opportunity to leave before borders closed.

Since Qatar went into lockdown March 14, 2020, Feroz was unable to leave San Luis Obispo (SLO) until Aug. 6, 2020.

“I had to move out of the dorm by April 4, and I moved into a motel and stayed in the motel for four months,” Feroz said, “It was isolating, being alone for a long period of time, life was very repetitive.” 

Due to financial issues of international fees and the missing in-person aspect, Feroz decided to take a leave of absence for one quarter. 

“[COVID-19] cut down our family business a lot,” Feroz said. “We have international and out-of-state fees — I’m paying $9,000 to do four classes, which is exorbitantly higher than in-state and out-of-state students.”

The uncertainty of whether something like this could happen again keeps Feroz’s parents at unease, and they are unsure if they want to send him back to Cal Poly or not.

Not only did international students need to navigate returning home, but also taking classes once abroad posed obstacles given the time differences.

“There’s an 11-hour time difference,” Feroz said. “So for my class schedule it would be 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. [in San Luis Obispo] and 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. [in Qatar].” 

Feroz said having to accommodate synchronous classes and his “mismatched schedule” has lessened the time he can spend time with loved ones and he is forced to miss out on a lot.

Mallari said the time difference in the Philippines has also had a strain on her relationships due to the adjustment.

She said she became irritable and seldom saw the sun because she woke up too early and was always in her room, she said.

“I just want to sleep all the time, but I know I still have work to do,” Mallari said. “I feel like I was so mean to my parents at the time.”

Apart from the time differences, being an international student comes with other unintended issues. 

A hurricane in the Philippines hindered Mallari’s ability to work. 

“We had blackouts frequently, and schools here were canceling classes. But, since Cal Poly doesn’t really know, there was nothing I could do,” Mallari said. “We had no internet connection during blackouts, and it would last an entire day.”

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