Caring for International Students at UAlbany 

New master's degree graduate Xiwen "Sophia" Wang and her family.

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 19, 2020) — International students who stayed at UAlbany to finish the spring semester said they appreciate the extra effort by UAlbany staff to make them feel at home and connected.

Xiwen Wang, or "Sophia" as she is known to her UAlbany friends, graduated this weekend with a master's degree in Educational Policy and Leadership. She lives in Guilderland with her husband and 6-year-old son Ruihan.

Wang, who works part-time in international admissions recruitment at the University's Center for International Education and Global Strategy, is one of almost 80 international students who remained on campus after spring break. Another 30 were approved to stay on campus for the summer, according to Director of International Student Services Michael Elliott.

"While ISSS was concerned about all our international students remaining in the Albany area during the pandemic, we decided to outreach by phone to each international student living on campus, just to check in with them and make sure they were doing fine," Elliott said. "We also held Zoom events where any of our international students could meet with the ISSS director for a check-in or with the ISSS advisors for an informal coffee hour. It is so important to connect with our students during this difficult time."

Wang said that CIEGS staff members John Pomeroy and Jane Benson-Rivera treat her like family. Part of her job involves answering inquiries from applicants and newly admitted students under her supervisors’ guidance. She talks with potential students in China on WeChat about the various teaching options UAlbany is considering for the fall and encourages them to apply.

"What makes me feel most accomplished is my value in helping the international students’ preparations for their crucial next step in future lives and helping them achieve their dreams," she said.

Several times a week, Pomeroy checks in online to see how Wang and her family are doing, and Pomeroy's wife, Jennifer, has baked Ruihan his favorite banana bread and cookies.

"They encourage me. They helped me adapt. They care," Wang said of Pomeroy and Benson-Rivera. "They say I am their younger sister."

This support is important when so many aspects of life are changed. Originally, the family planned to return to Beijing after graduation. Now, with the cost of an airline ticket to China skyrocketing, Wang is looking at staying another year and working. An added benefit: Her kindergartener is happy to stay in the U.S.

Xiwen "Sophia" Wang and her son Ruihan.

Xiwen "Sophia" Wang and son Ruihan.

Undergraduate Experience

Harsh Dawar, a sophomore from Indore, India, lives in Empire Commons. A double major in Business Administration and Mathematics, Dawar said he has has felt supported during COVID-19.

"I think the University has handled the entire situation extremely well. I felt really good when the University decided to move us to the apartments (from our previous quads) to isolate us away from the newly set up testing site in the Colonial Quad parking lot. I felt it was really thoughtful of the University to provide us with cloth masks and shuttle service to Walmart to support us even more in times of crisis. The University has been very supportive of its international student community and I am really grateful for that," said Dawar.

"It is definitely hard living away from my family in a time like this and I only wish I could be with them right now," he said. "They seem to be holding up pretty well and they support each other and me, and my mom especially never lets a day go by without talking to me, which I really appreciate."

Dawar found the adjustment to online classes difficult, but said his professors were understanding and supportive in extending deadlines if necessary.

The transition was strange in the beginning, he said, when he stayed on campus as other students went home, even some of his international friends.

"It definitely was something I had to get used to, but I feel is a small thing to do to ensure everyone's safety and health," he said.

Dawar said relocating student dining services to the Campus Center was a good move.

"Everything is for takeaway and the people working there try to make a different style of food every day, including Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, etc. This really makes dining a fun thing and eliminates redundancy and I am really grateful to everyone working there for this," he said.

Zeying "Elaine" Li earned a bachelor's degree in psychology this weekend and on Friday watched the graduation ceremony online as her parents watched in Shanghai.

Li said the international student office has helped "a lot" this semester as all her suitemates went home. She plans to return to China in June and found her experience in studying abroad at UAlbany for four years was important to broaden her horizons.

Contacted by email in Shanghai, her mother, Canna Jin, said, "We are very proud of her as she finished her study in the United States in four year.” The parents had planned to come to Albany for commencement, plans that were canceled because of the pandemic.

"In my opinion, you (at UAlbany) have taken very efficient measures on campus to control the COVID-19 pandemic," Li's mother continued. "I felt reassured as I believe Elaine is in a safe environment. John (Pomeroy) helped me a lot during this special time… When UAlbany was required as one of the places for testing, frankly speaking, I was a bit worried as I had no idea how this testing would operate. John explained very carefully and convinced me it is safe and everything is OK."

Like Dawar, Li is staying in an apartment at Empire Commons. With a kitchen and independent bathroom, her mother feels she is safer. And, she is having groceries delivered.

"We are keeping in contact with Elaine frequently by WeChat. It is very convenient and free of charge. We can see each other whenever we want, can leave messages to her when she is busy," her mother said.

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