An NMU student from China is “studying abroad” in her home country this semester. Yaqing Li had rejoined her family last spring as concerns about COVID-19 intensified, and she has not been able to return to Marquette because of lingering travel bans. Through creative intervention by Northern and one of its study abroad partners, Li is able to maintain her immigration status and continue as an NMU student while enrolled at a prestigious university that most Chinese students would not typically have an opportunity to attend.
“We were able to land on a great solution through flexibility and our International Programs staff going above and beyond in responding to this student's predicament,” said Steve VandenAvond, vice president for Extended Learning and Community Engagement. “Even though she is not with us this semester, she is doubly excited about when she can come back to campus because of the help she has received. This is Northern at its best, but it is not unusual. The student-centered approach is what sets this university apart from others.”
Li hails from Taiyuan, in Shanxi Province. She attended NMU's former English Language Institute for two semesters as a student of Xinzhou Teachers University. She said the positive experience developing her language skills, personality and creativity motivated her to enroll at NMU in fall 2019 as a double major in multimedia production and art and design.
“My country has a very different education system,” she wrote in an email. “You can't choose your favorite major at will unless you have a high score in the college entrance examination, because our major and school are linked to the score. Because of this, I did not choose my favorite major in China, but NMU gave me such a chance, and I like the people here very much, they are very friendly, so I decided to join the big family of NMU after careful consideration.”
After Li returned to China amid concerns about the virus and potential travel implications, she attempted to complete the fall semester online, but ended up withdrawing.
“The outbreak has honestly overwhelmed me,” she wrote. “I read different social media and news every day, trying to get more comprehensive information. My first reaction was to be very worried about my friends in the United States. Secondly, my study makes me feel anxious. Even if I can take classes online, it is very different from in-person classes. I also want to meet real people. Moreover, due to the network restrictions in China, I cannot use the Google or NMU system frequently and fluently, which greatly reduced my learning efficiency and even prevented me from completing the course normally.”
She was thinking of taking this winter semester off, but expressed concern over how it would impact her immigration status and grade-point average. Lila Isleib, study abroad and student services coordinator, said she and International Programs director Diana Vreeland realized Li was struggling.
Around that time, NMU study abroad partner ISA and its partner The Education Abroad Network reached out to Isleib to suggest a way to possibly avoid losing students because of travel restrictions. They had connections in different countries and could create study abroad programs that would allow students to attend classes in a more convenient time zone and earn credits transferable to U.S. universities.
“We met with them and then reached out to Yaqing,” Isleib said. “She was very happy about the opportunity to attend Fudan University this winter, which she described as a top-10 institution in the prosperous city of Shanghai. She said, ‘I would never be able to study here in the normal sense.' We typically wouldn't encourage international students to study abroad in their own country because it defeats the purpose. But there have been so many negative impacts associated with the pandemic, it's exciting to be able to find a creative solution to a unique problem on behalf of a student.”
The solution prevents Li from having to reapply for a visa, which can be difficult even in non-COVID-19 times. She has expressed her hope to return to Northern in fall 2021.
As illustrated by her story, the pandemic has exacerbated challenges faced by international students who want to pursue an education in the United States. It has also disrupted or postponed the plans of many U.S. students wishing to study abroad.