International Students

“Safer at Home” far from home

By Philip Klinker

Willie Zhou of Guangdong, China in his Madison apartment

A month ago, everyone in America’s life was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison never returned from their spring break, and classes have remained online ever since.  

Many students were scattered over the country in their hometowns. Others elected to stay at apartments in Madison they would be paying rent for anyway. But students from foreign countries studying at the University of Wisconsin did not have a choice.

Interstate travel is strongly discouraged and international travel is a near impossibility.  Students intent on returning to their homes in other countries were suddenly stranded in Madison, sometimes a world away from where they’re from.  

The housing situation has been relatively stable for most international students.  Jeff Otieno, a sophomore and finance major from Kenya, has been staying safe and sheltering in place at his apartment in Madison, so little has changed for him as far as housing.

When in-person classes ended, most students in University Housing had to go home. International students in University Housing were the largest exception, and additional accommodations were made.  “I think we have been fairly accommodated, especially due to the generous Emergency Aid,” said Farai Chinamo, a sophomore from Zimbabwe who lives in a residence hall.

Critiques of the university lie mostly in the online education system. “In general, the university tried its best, but as for individual professors, some of them are just being really inconsiderate,” said Willie Zhou, a sophomore from Guangdong, China. It’s not all bad in his eyes, though: “I am quite enjoying the fact that I get to sleep more than 8 hours every day.”

Concerns lie largely with their families abroad.  “I do worry [about my family,] but keeping in contact helps and knowing that they’re taking safety measures offers some comfort,” said Otieno.  

Chinamo echoed this sentiment. “I worried for my grandmother and grandfather because they all have illnesses.” Being far from home is nothing new for international students, but it adds another layer of stress in an already uncertain time. “It’s been hard to think of the effect the pandemic is having back home,” Chinamo added.  

Concerns over misinformation are also very real. “I am more worried about my grandparents than my parents because they always believe in rumors or false information spread on the internet,” said Zhou. “This would make them either downplay the virus or use the wrong way to protect themselves from the virus.” In a country hit hard by the virus like China, this can be especially dangerous.

International students also look forward to the day when travel restrictions relax.  Like everyone, most cannot wait until travel restrictions are relaxed and we can all socialize more freely.  “I’m really hoping I can spend more time out in the summer and hang out more with friends once it is safe to do so,” said Otieno. He even looks forward to hopefully seeing his family in Kenya later this year.  Otieno is, “looking forward to possibly spending Christmas together if it’s safe then.”

Even visiting home when travel becomes possible again is not so simple though.  “Monopoly and limited flights between China and the US really gave these giant airline companies opportunities to rip us off,” said Zhou. “Unless the market returns to normal or there is a mandatory evacuation paid by my government, I will stay in my bed.”

Many students feel isolated and separated from family during the nationwide shutdown but international students have the additional problem of being oceans away from family.  Uncertainty abounds for us all in these times, and for international students the world can be that much more uncertain.

Student Employees

The struggles of student workers through COVID-19

By Joe Marz

East Campus, once a hub for students, has been left desolate thanks to COVID-19

In a matter of months, COVID-19 went from a dangerous but relatively distant virus to an active threat that changed the way we live our lives. 

Though the world at large has been significantly impacted by the virus and measures implemented to prevent its spread, some people have had to significantly or even completely change their life plans on account of COVID-19. Notably, students at colleges and universities with jobs or internships have had their career plans markedly altered.

According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 was first reported in Wuhan, China in December of 2019. The virus was declared a public health emergency in January of 2020, and a few short months later the world began practicing social distancing in an effort to curb the outbreak — forcing people to avoid face-to-face contact with one another.

As a result of these social distancing measures, many people quickly saw their jobs or careers change drastically. Students workers were no different, as many were forced into temporary unemployment.

“I got an email a couple weeks ago that hourly interns are not considered essential,” College of Agricultural & Life Sciences research fellowship intern Collin Klaubauf said. “So, basically, the university was not allowed to hire hourly interns, which would include me.”

These students were not given an indication that their jobs were in danger prior to losing them, as for many it was simply a matter of receiving an unexpected email or being abruptly told that they were not allowed to come back to work. This is a sentiment voiced by Four Lakes Dining Hall supervisor Blake Bomski.

“We definitely weren’t expecting… to just be told you are now unemployed,” Bomski said.

These students are not the only ones facing sudden economic challenges thanks to COVID-19. According to the Congressional Research Service, the virus could lower economic growth worldwide by 2% for every month that current preventative measures are in place. The virus could also lower global trade anywhere from 13-52%

Students also worry that they may find challenges beyond these economic struggles should social distancing protocols remain in place, as the quarantine may begin to interfere with their future plans. For instance, students who were planning to take advantage of their school’s co-op programs — where they can gain real-world experience with an employer in their chosen career path for a semester— may be forced to put such plans on hold.

“I sincerely hope that all this coronavirus stuff is done by next semester,” Bomski said in response to his plans to take a co-op program. Bomski faces an especially difficult situation with his co-op program, as he had already set plans in place — notably leasing a new apartment —  for this co-op prior to the quarantine.

Other students have similarly found their future plans changed thanks to the virus, as they have been forced to find alternative means of income in response to measures forced upon them by the virus.

“[My friend] hooked me up with a job… which is still happening as of right now,” Klaubauf said.

However, even with more firm summer plans, the future careers of students remain uncertain, as the dangers posed by COVID-19 remain largely unpredictable. Even Klaubauf, who already had to plan around his research fellowship falling through, remains at risk of economic struggles thanks to the virus.

“If my [new] job gets cancelled, which is a very real thing, I’ll probably have to find another job,” Klaubauf said.

Though they have many factors working against them, these student workers are not completely without help. According to the New York Times, there is approximately $2 trillion available in relief funding for those facing unemployment on account of the virus. Additionally, for some college workers in particular, weekly salaries are still provided in order to satisfy the economic needs of these students.

As one of these student workers, Bomski has been afforded a few weeks worth of salary from his job to make up for the money he would have earned otherwise.

“It definitely shows some extension on the university’s part to assist students who are dependent on that job for income,” Bomski said. “It definitely meant a lot to me and I’m sure it meant a lot to other people.”

While the times are certainly challenging, most student workers seem to have a grasp on their situation, and have found ways around the issues posed by COVID-19. These students understand that the problems they are currently facing are not permanent, and that they will find a way out of their troubles. 

“It’s really easy to get down on the situation, but there’s a lot of positive going on within the negative,” Klaubauf said. “We have to remember that this will be over at some point. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Bridging the Gap

6 Ways Telehealth Has Been Bridging the Gap Between UW-Madison Students and UHS

By Jennifer Hwang

1. UHS has been providing telehealth services since March 16.

According to Interim Director of Mental Health Services at UHS, Andrea Lawson, the school clinic reached out to every student who had an in-person appointment scheduled to better understand what their current needs were in the context of COVID-19. “For some students, their need for support was less, and for others it was more or at least different,” Lawson said. “We are offering continuity of care to all students already connected to us, regardless of their location.” UHS has been able to serve students with phone or video-based services, with state licensing laws for mental health services in mind. When UHS cannot be the one to help students due to the law, they can connect students to local resources.

2. 70-80% of students are using telehealth services, with a significant uptick in students utilizing SilverCloud.

UHS has been at its typical capacity for counseling, although they are seeing a large increase in the number of students who are signing up for and actively using SilverCloud, Lawson said. The platform is an online cognitive behavior-based self-help tool that students and faculty can use. “Since March 16, 332 new students have started using the platform, in comparison to 125 students who used SilverCloud during the same time period last year,” Lawson said.

3. Students struggling with serious medical and mental health issues are getting access to medication in the midst of the pandemic.

Based on symptoms, UHS providers can diagnose and treat severe medical concerns by sending prescriptions electronically to a student’s local pharmacy.

4. UHS providers have been conducting telehealth sessions from home. 

“To limit their need to travel and interact with others in accordance with the ‘Safer at Home’ order, almost all UHS staff are providing services from their homes,” Lawson said. “Each provider went through training to be able to understand the technology [they] are using, along with best practices for providing teletherapy.” At their homes, UHS providers have been virtually seeing students in confidential, private spaces.

5. UHS appreciates any feedback from students who have been using telehealth to improve their services.

The school clinic has been working on launching student satisfaction surveys. Currently, students can provide feedback through the ‘Tell Us How We’re Doing’ form online. Also, UHS has come up with some new online resources to help students, found here.

6. Students experiencing mental health emergencies can rely on UHS.

“We’ve developed protocols particularly for this time, including confirming the location of the student at the time of the appointment, developing an emergency support plan, and identifying local crisis resources for students to reach out to if needed,” Lawson said. The UHS crisis line is available 24/7 at 608-265-5600 Option 9, and on call services can be reached at 608-265-5600 Option 2.

ROTC Training

“And the Army Goes Rolling Along”: ROTC and COVID-19

By Reagan Zimmerman

UW Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Cadets have had to adapt to a new form of training after COVID-19 caused the university to suspend all in-person classes on March 11. A normal day for the Cadets would involve crawling through the woods on campus and conducting Physical Training (PT) together, but now they must rely on communicating everything through a computer screen.

Study Abroad

“It straight-up sucked”: students reflect on COVID-19 ending the study abroad program

By Joe States

Alice McLoughlin in front of the Trevi Fountain, Rome

When Alice McLoughlin woke up on the morning of Feb. 29, she checked her phone to see she had received an email from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s study abroad program.

The Italy study abroad program had been canceled, and students were to return to the U.S. as soon as possible.

“It straight-up sucked,” laughed Alice in our interview. “[Study abroad] was the one thing that I really, really wanted to do in college. I’d been looking forward to study abroad for like ten years and that was kinda my only chance.”

UW-Madison’s International Academic Program has over 200 programs in 68 countries, with approximately 1,200 students enrolled in the spring semester according to John Lucas, UW-Madison’s Assistant Vice Chancellor of University Communications.

 When the programs were canceled in response to the growing COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of stories like Alice’s played out through late February and early March across the world.

Alice, a sophomore at UW-Madison majoring in political science and psychology, was studying in Rome for the spring semester. Though she’d heard about the spread of COVID-19 back in early February, Alice said she had been told that she wouldn’t have to return to the U.S.

“There was like a whole week where my program, CIEE, they were like, ‘you can stay, we’re not going to cancel,’” Alice recalled.

But the situation quickly changed.

“One day, there was no cases in Italy, and then it was like there was a thousand, and then it kept doubling overnight,” Alice said. “I really didn’t think it was going to affect my life that much until all of a sudden I woke up and I had to go home.”

The Monday after receiving the email, Alice was on a plane back to the US.

“It was kinda just really sad because it was this big life dream of mine,” Alice said. “I understand why it got canceled, it kinda had to be done because it was starting to turn into a dangerous situation, but it was really disappointing.”

Karissa Niederkorn, a fellow UW-Madison sophomore majoring in community non-profit leadership, was studying in Ireland when President Trump announced the European travel ban on March 11. Echoing Alice’s experiences less than two weeks prior, Karissa said the situation changed suddenly.

“It all happened so fast. It went from not a problem at all … to book a flight home as soon as possible,” Karissa said. 

She’d been planning a trip to Belgium that week, and was actually headed to the airport when she got the news.

“Instead, I booked my flight home and started packing, and I was home two days later. It was kinda hectic,” Karissa said. 

Karissa Niederkorn visiting the Kylemore Abbey, Ireland

But other students weren’t quite so lucky.

“A few of my roommates went to London a few hours before the travel ban was announced, so they had to stay there for a few days,” Karissa said. “The airports got really crazy, so people were waiting like six hours to get through customs.”

Karissa’s reflection on the situation matched Alice’s closely.

“It kinda sucks, just cause you plan out study abroad, and it’s kinda like your one chance to go around Europe,” Karissa said. “And so then to have a 48-hour notice and be on a plane back home kinda sucks.”

Now, both are back in the U.S., under quarantine and coping with all the difficulties that come with it. Alice is in New York, and although she isn’t in a virus hotspot, she’s been stuck indoors for most of the last few months.

“My mom’s a nurse, so she works at a hospital, so she sees Coronavirus patients everyday, so I can’t leave the house,” Alice said. “I haven’t seen anybody except my parents in six weeks.”

She said she’s been doing paint-by-numbers to fill the time.

“I’m going insane,” she joked.

Karissa has also been stuck indoors with her family, but isn’t home quite yet.

“My mom has breast cancer, so she’s going through radiation treatment, so I’m staying at my grandparent’s for a while, just until she’s completely safe,” Karissa said.

Karissa is looking forward to when quarantine ends and she can finally see her friends and go outside again.

“My friends and I are all going to hang out, and we were thinking of going camping,” she said.

Alice, after spending so much time with her family in New York, said she would like to “see someone besides my parents or get a burrito from Chipotle. Or visit Wisconsin.”

With the Covid-19 pandemic constantly changing, the future of the study abroad program remains in the air. Although all summer programs have been canceled, UW Study Abroad has held off a decision for the 2020 fall semester.

“Due to the dynamic and varied circumstances with COVID-19, we will continue to review each individual location in assessing risks,” UW Study Abroad said in a statement to students.

Despite how the program was cut short, Karissa talked fondly about one especially fun day back in Ireland.

“It was raining a lot every day. So there was one day where it was really nice outside, and we just went and sat outside at the water and just hung out,” Karissa recalled. “And everyone from the university was there. No one went to class that day cause it was so nice. 

After thinking for a moment, Karissa continued.

“And that was the same week that I flew home,” she said. “Which is crazy to think about, because it seemed like such a normal day.”

Still in Madison

For Students Stuck in Madison, Uncertainty and Isolation Gnaw at Emotional Wellbeing

Benjamin Farrell, a student from Brooklyn, N.Y. who remained in Madison during spring break was unable to return home after Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order was implemented.

By Ben Baker

It’s a crisp, cloudless March morning in Madison, Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin’s men’s basketball team just secured a regular-season title in a year that could only be described as a David and Goliath story, Spring Break is fast approaching, and excitement surrounding the upcoming annual Mifflin Block Party is already starting to build. Not three weeks later, however, the vibrant campus in the heart of the Badger State’s capitol stopped in its tracks. 

The residence halls, once teaming with eager-eyed freshmen are now empty. The Terrace at Memorial Union, through which the laughter and chatter of smiling twenty-somethings reverberated, is now void of any activity and the picturesque Bascom Hall, which at one time overlooked the constant hustle and bustle of one of America’s most active college towns, now looms ominously over quiet streets and empty restaurants. 

The near total shutdown of Madison is a spectacle which mirrors that of cities, towns and college campuses across the country, as COVID-19, a coronavirus strain which originated as a regional illness in Wuhan, China rapidly spiraled into a worldwide pandemic in the span of less than four months. 

The wildfire-like spread of COVID-19 and the thousands of fatalities left in the virus’ wake prompted UW’s Chancellor, Rebecca Blank, to suspend in-person classes for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year, closing dormitories and moving the 2020 commencement ceremony online.

Blank also set a fourteen-day quarantine for any students arriving in Madison who traveled elsewhere during UW’s spring break, and urged students living in off-campus housing to return to their hometowns for the remainder of the Spring semester. However, for many students, particularly those who live out-of-state, the choice between remaining in Madison or returning to a region of the country hit even harder than Wisconsin led them to remain in the city.

Jacob Pressman, a student originally from New York who chose to remain in Madison said he opted not to come home after he and his family decided it was safer for him to stay put.

“It was a really tough decision,” Pressman said,  “As much as I wanted to be with my family, I didn’t feel comfortable heading to the most densely populated place in the world during a pandemic and my parents didn’t either. Staying [in Madison] was a hard choice, but, especially now, I think it was the right call.” 

Still, other students who chose to finish the year in Madison said they now regret their decision to do so and said they only stayed behind because Blank initially floated the possibility of resuming in-person classes as early as April 10 before closing the UW campus until the start of the 2020 Fall semester. 

Students both at UW and across the country are now transitioning to a semester of online learning and grappling with the possibility of fall semester being taught over webcam. For many now stuck in Wisconsin’s capital, the emotional toll of a lost semester and harsh reality is overwhelming. According to CNBC, they will soon enter one of the worst job markets in American history, only amplified by a sense of isolation brought on by mandatory stay-at-home orders.

“I’m stuck in a studio apartment by myself,” said Sean Xiao, a student living in an off-campus apartment complex. “I try to FaceTime my mom and dad once a day, and I’m constantly texting my friends. I try to do at-home workouts to keep myself busy, but I’ve got to be honest, I’m going kind of crazy here.” 

The psychological effects of sheltering in place, particularly in isolation are palpable. The American Psychological Association linked feelings of chronic loneliness to extreme stress, depression and increased risk of premature mortality. The study concluded lack of social interaction could prove as detrimental to one’s health as morbid obesity, developing an alcohol dependency or smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.

The effects of isolation on students stranded in off-campus housing are only compounded for those who are worried for the health of their parents’ in the midst of a pandemic whose victims are predominantly older adults, according to the CDC. While initial reports indicated senior citizens were the most vulnerable demographic to the potentially fatal health effects of COVID-19, it is increasingly clear that virus patients in their fifties are far more susceptible to lethal complications than previously thought.

“I’m just worried about my parents. They’re in their mid-50’s and that makes them more vulnerable to this,” said Kelly Heinzmann, an out-of-state student who stayed in Madison after spring break. “I know they’re not any safer with me home, but I just would rather be with them during this, because you never know.” 

Without a clear end to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in sight, and widespread speculation from health experts of a deadlier second wave of infections if the country’s economy is opened up too soon, according to the Washington Post, the possibility of prolonged quarantine has students like Xiao at their wits end.

“Staying here [in Madison] was a mistake,” Xiao said, “I need to get out of this apartment and go back home. I never thought I’d say this, but if I have to stay here too much longer I’m going to lose my mind.”

COVID-19 Mental Health

Students particularly affected by mental health disorders during quarantine, expert says

The US has seen a 34% increase in severe anxiety since start of the coronavirus pandemic

By Abby Doeden

In light of COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders, students struggle with severe anxiety and other mental health issues.

With COVID-19 forcing classes to move online, students to move home and most of the country to #stayathome, many things have changed in the last few months. For University of Wisconsin sophomore Audrey Swanson, the biggest change has been to her mental health.

“I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression since like before I can remember,” Swanson said. “So I mean, it’s definitely had its ups and downs in college, but now it’s kind of down. It’s not the worst it’s ever been, but I can definitely tell that there’s a lot I need to work on.”

Swanson said since she has struggled with her mental health for so many years, she notices when it is better and when it is worse. Swanson said she noticed such a change because her mental health was actually the best it has ever been this semester, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

And Swanson is not alone in noticing an increase in anxiety and depression during the pandemic. 

According to Mental Health America, there was a 34% increase in people screened per day for severe anxiety in the first two weeks of March alone. Because of this, the number of “excess severe anxiety” results associated with the coronavirus rose to over 1,000 on March 15, and has grown since.

Expert on adolescent mental health and Associate Professor in the UW School of Social Work, Tally Moses said this increase has been particularly noticeable among her students.

“This period is causing a lot of people to suffer — whether they have a history of mental health conditions or not,” Moses said. “As we know, rates of anxiety — depression too — but in particular rates of severe anxiety has been going up with recent cohorts.”

Moses said college students may be more prone to anxiety during this time, as rates of young adult anxiety were already really high before the pandemic happened. Moses credits this trend to young adults having grown up with social media and greater social pressures surrounding them.

While the uncertainty of the pandemic can be anxiety-inducing enough, Moses said the anxiety students are facing is different for different people. 

For students with more privilege, anxiety comes more from the ambiguity of what will happen with the pandemic, coping with new living situations and struggles of social isolation while in quarantine, Moses said.

“The other piece of it has to do with the social isolation during an age and a developmental stage where it is sort of expected and developmentally desirable to be with your peers,” Moses said. “And not being able to do that and having that monotony in most routines and not really having a lot of social stimulation I think is, is just putting fuel to the fire.”

However, for less privileged students, anxiety comes from worries of financial insecurity, what their next meal will be and having a secure place to complete school work, along with those other anxieties. 

Moses added she has noticed many of her students struggle with motivation and being able to focus on school work — a problem Swanson said she has been noticing in herself. 

Swanson said while her anxiety can keep her motivated to complete classwork, she has noticed a lack of motivation to exercise and get out of the house during quarantine.

“For things like working out, since the gyms are closed, I can’t motivate myself to do that at home,” Swanson said. “So I haven’t exercised since quarantine started. So that’s the big thing that I haven’t been doing.”

Swanson, who was in Madison for the first half of quarantine and is now quarantining at home with her parents in Florida, said she gauges her mental health on what time she gets out of bed in the morning. And while it has been better at home with her family, Swanson said she often doesn’t get out of bed until 2 p.m. in quarantine. 

“I had classes to get me out of bed this semester and it was great because some of them were earlier and some of them a little bit later,” Swanson said. “But mostly I was able to get all of them in the morning, which was great because that is kind of how I gauge how I’m doing mental health wise, is how easy it is to get out of bed in the morning. And I was doing really well before quarantine, and now it’s just so bad. So if I can get up before 11, it’s great.”

Moses said this kind of regression is ok during this time and should not be something students beat themselves up over. 

“One of the things I would say for people who are coming into the pandemic with a preexisting mental health condition is to give yourself a break” Moses said. “Expect a regression, expect that you’re not going to do as well as you have been doing potentially, expect that some of the work may be undone — and don’t panic about that.”

One of the most important things for people struggling with mental health right now, Moses said, is to remember things will get better soon and to start taking small steps to get there.

Peyton David, a senior at UW who also struggles with anxiety and depression, echoed Moses’ advice, saying what helps her the most is remembering she will get through this tough time. 

“At some point, it’s over and at some point you feel better — and that’s just kind of what you have to tell yourself to get through the day,” David said. “And you don’t really know when it’s going to be over, but you’ll know when you’re on the other side, I think that’s the best advice I can give anyone who’s starting to deal with anxiety, or depression because of this.”

David has found that working on creative projects and reconnecting with old friends has helped her during quarantine. Swanson said she has been working to do this by trying to set a routine for herself and recommends anyone currently struggling with mental health do that as well.

Moses agreed with David and Swanson’s recommendations, adding that it can be helpful to limit your intake of social media and news, and create a strong sense of community right now — whether that is virtually or six feet apart. 

However, Moses said the most important thing for everyone during this time to remember is that everyone is in it together, fighting COVID-19 as a community.

“I think a lot of what I think people need to do right now is to, I guess, accept where we are,” Moses said. “Don’t individualize your stress. Try to understand [this pandemic] as a collective experience.”