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An International Student’s Journey to the US During a Pandemic

International Student’s Journey | Illustration by Mairen Donohoe | The Wright State Guardian

On the morning of Aug. 14, I was holding the folder with all of my documents. I left my bag and phone with my mom and entered the US embassy full of confidence, knowing that something exciting was waiting for me. I was at the beginning of the next chapter in life, setting new life goals and challenging myself on how far I could come.

The story of every international student who came to the U.S. to study in 2020 was absolutely unique, and mine was not an exception. Without the consistent support of Wright State University (WSU), it would have been impossible for students like me to get through such a difficult time of uncertainty, when everything I had been planning for a long time was hanging by a single thread.

Although it did not always seem like it, I truly believe that everything happens at the right time and for a reason. Even if I did not agree with the next step in my life, I was where I was supposed to be. Every step I took was getting me closer to who I am now.

Three years ago I was lucky enough to participate in the USA Work and Travel Summer program in Alabama. It was a great opportunity for me, as a Ukrainian, to go to another part of the world and discover a new country. It was a once in a lifetime experience. I spent an unforgettable summer abroad working as a lifeguard, getting acquainted with people from around the world, learning American culture and traveling.

It was a decisive point in my life because I was surrounded with those that had some of the same ambitions as me. They helped me to understand what it meant to be a student in America. I heard stories from others and their feedback on the quality of education they got and it sounded spectacular to me. It was then that I began to think about coming to the US for my studies.

After returning to my home country, I planned to finish my undergraduate studies and get a Master’s degree. From 2017 to 2019, I was searching for a marketing program that would be interesting for me.

I decided to look at the programs in the U.S. instead of in Ukraine because I simply couldn’t find anything that fit my career goals there. However, I did not know I would have to face a totally different system of education, language, and application requirements which were different from Ukraine.

For example, there are no requirements for recommendation letters for graduate admission in Ukraine, so I had to contact my professors and explain to them that I needed a recommendation letter in a language that they didn’t speak. I ended up going with the Ukrainian version and then translated it later.

In fall 2019, I found out about the launch of a unique graduate marketing program at WSU that I didn’t see at any other university. I started preparing for my goal of being admitted for the fall 2020 semester. In March 2020, I received an admission letter right before the global pandemic occurred. It was a big relief because I was going through a tough process, but I always trusted my hard work and knew that it would lead me to success.

I knew that this letter would not allow me to enter the U.S. right away. The most important thing was to get a student visa, although it is not always guaranteed, it maybring abundant opportunities in the end. I knew that I should be prepared for a different outcome.

One of the biggest pieces of advice that I can give to someone in a similar situation is just to believe in yourself. There were times when I thought I would never make it to the US for my studies, but consistent work and believing in myself were the things that kept me going along the way.

Nobody could give me a straight answer about the possibility of studying in the US for the fall 2020 semester. From March to July, I was just sitting and waiting for further updates on when the US embassy would be open in Ukraine and when they would start to proceed with student visas.

It seemed like there was no guarantee that students like me would be welcome in the country with the biggest number of coronavirus cases at that time.

There were many ups and downs regarding how studies would be held in the fall semester. There was a ton of information coming from many different sources, and I never knew which to trust. There was no clear understanding of how the visa process would continue during the pandemic. The rollercoaster of information and emotions was hard to overcome.

With new restrictions during the pandemic, WSU decided to make a flexible delivery of classes, which would require international students like me to have at least one class with a combination of in-person and online delivery classes. That was the first moment that I thought there was still a chance for me to start my dream program as I had planned.

I remember how at the beginning of August, I was losing hope of coming to WSU. I was dependent on the coronavirus situation in two countries at the same time – the US and Ukraine. The U.S embassy in Ukraine was not working, and they were not issuing student visas, and there was no information about when they would resume this process.

The clock was ticking, and even if I got a visa in August, they could still deny my entrance in the US after the start date of classes. I started to call the US embassy in Ukraine every day to communicate with international students from other countries and monitor all news related to upcoming students.

During the week of Aug. 10, the U.S. consul in Ukraine announced that it was possible to apply for a student visa. I completed an application and scheduled an interview the same week. It was an uphill battle where I was stuck in a situation where nothing depended on me anymore.

The Interview at the embassy, which lasted less than five minutes, felt like an eternity to me. I knew that it was the moment of destiny that could go both ways.

After I got approved for a visa, I had mixed feelings of amazement and entitlement. I felt like it was obvious because of my hard work and dedication I truly deserved. Everything

happened so fast, and I could not believe that after waiting half of the year I finally reached my goal.

I had only one week to prepare for my long-distance travel with a one-way ticket in the middle of a global pandemic. I relied only on myself during some of the riskiest times this generation has seen. Saying goodbye to my family for an uncertain period of time was extremely difficult to overcome. But still, my last-minute thought was that I made it and I proved to myself that no matter what, I was on my way to achieve a lifetime dream. Consequently, I had to find a direct flight from Ukraine to the U.S. in order to avoid any quarantine measures that could happen somewhere in Europe if I would have a connection flight.

Luckily, WSU sent me letters confirming that I had flexible delivery classes. Eventually, the time of consistent uncertainty had passed when I landed at the JFK international airport in New York. Here, I was in the process of starting my new life.

Now, at the end of the first semester, I confidently feel that this is all I wanted even though I am studying mainly online. The quality of work that I’m putting in has already resulted in positive outcomes. I have reached my goal of being an active student by being involved in different student organizations, and I am sure that the USA is a country without limits which could help me to thrive and bring me career success. I feel that my personal growth has just begun because the level of my motivation and dedication has never decreased.

Never doubt yourself and never shy away from any challenges you might face in the future. Give it a chance. Try your best, and eventually your dreams come true one day with a result that you have been waiting for a long time.

Olha Zuban

Social Media Assistant