SIU international students open up about struggles due to COVID-19


Carson VanBuskirk | @carsonvanb

International students pose alongside Executive Director of International Affairs Andrew Carver, and SIU Chancellor John Dunn, on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019, during the International Parade of Flags on SIU’s campus.

By Elena Schauwecker, Staff Reporter

In the midst of a pandemic, a changing political climate and multiple civil rights movements, international students shared their experiences with travel, financial struggle and racism. They had praise for the ways SIU has helped them so far and they offered suggestions on how SIU could change to further help students in the future. 

Tamás Hajtman, a senior engineering student from Hungary, said he could not go home to visit his family for a year and a half due to COVID restrictions. Considering that he has to quarantine for two weeks before traveling and that SIU holiday breaks are typically only four to five weeks long, he could not practically travel back and forth. 

“Even now, after such a long time, I almost had to cancel my flights in the last second as I didn’t wanna be the cause to give this deadly disease to my family,” Hajtman said.    


Hajtman was also very grateful to SIU for the help he has been provided during this difficult time. 

“The international office is really helpful in all ways. They help me to go home and make sure that I have all the documents required to be able to come back,” Hajman said. 

Salim Almenshad, a PhD student of biomedical engineering who is from Saudi Arabia, has had a very different experience with SIU’s Center for International Education. Particularly in the midst of a pandemic, it has been extremely difficult for him to find a job, and he has had to stay in school just to maintain his legal status in the United States. 

“I would like for them to have a program for international students for whenever they graduate,” Almenshad said. “A lot of people who are not U.S. citizens cannot find a job unless their school actually helps them out, and I don’t see that help from our school.” 

The students also said they would like more scholarships from the school. Laura Naharro, an MA student from Spain studying language, literature and culture who also teaches undergraduate Spanish, said it is a serious financial struggle to pay for school and travel, especially during the pandemic when jobs are scarce.  

“I don’t know any international student who is not struggling to survive. People like me and people in my department aren’t here on scholarships. We pay everything with our salary, and sometimes it’s difficult,” Naharro said. 

Naharro also said it was extremely difficult to move to a new country during the pandemic because she did not know anyone and had no way to meet people. She said it is her hope that the university will organize more social events for them. 


Almenshad talked about the social issue of racism and said he often feels unwelcome among American students. Hajtman said he never experienced this and that he was always treated kindly by his classmates in school and by his teammates on the swimming and diving teams. 

Almenshad said he believes this disparity is owing to their differences in appearance; while Hajtman has blue eyes and blonde hair, Almenshad has brown skin and dark features. Almenshad said racism has been the hardest thing for him to deal with in the U.S. 

“I’ve faced during my time in the United States a lot of racist people. They really make you feel that you should not be here, just go back where you belong to,” Almenshad said. “They look at you like you’re nothing.” 

Staff reporter Elena Schauwecker can be reached at [email protected].

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