An International Student’s Experience During the Remote Semester

Kelly Gallagher ‘22


More than a few students have lamented their early morning classes, but for Renée Harris ‘22, it’s particularly challenging to wake up for her weekly 8 A.M. discussion because it’s been just over seven hours since her last class ended.  

Renée is an international student at the College of the Holy Cross, who is pursuing a double major in English and Religious Studies. Renée currently lives in Beijing, which is twelve hours ahead of Massachusetts. As a result, her classes take place at 8 P.M., 10:30 P.M., and 11:30 P.M. She had one lecture which is recorded, but that class also includes her weekly 8 A.M. live discussion. 

When she signed up for her fall classes, Renée had been planning to live on campus during the Fall 2020 semester, but after the College went remote, she decided to study from home. However, her class schedule was designed for life on campus and all of her classes were at 2 or 3 P.M. Renée said that she emailed her professors to see if they could provide recordings of class, but many said they couldn’t. They explained that they couldn’t record students without their consent, or they recommended she switch to another class because of the importance of class participation. 

Graphic by Kate Nedorostek ‘23.

Renée found her professor’s concerns understandable, but “it was pretty shocking. It was a lot of anxiety, having to run around and email my advisor and all these deans, asking, ‘Can you please help me find any classes?’” Many of the proffered classes, such as Calculus, didn’t fulfill Renée’s major requirements. Renée explained that she swapped out most of her classes, losing classes she needed for her requirements and ending up in classes just “because they were the only ones that worked for my schedule.” 

The Spire asked Renée if there was anything the College could have done differently to support its international students during the remote semester. Renée replied that, “I feel like them showing just a bit more empathy would have gone a long way. It felt horrible, just being turned away by everyone. It seemed like we were left to just fight for ourselves and had to battle for our access to education. It felt really unfair that we didn’t have the same opportunities as our peers who live in New England. I don’t think it’s even fair for students who live in the States with a 3-hour time difference. That can make a big difference. There are people waking up at 5 in the morning to get to the class they need. I don’t think that demonstrates proper empathy for your students.”

Renée continued, “This isn’t me saying that Holy Cross is bad. Not at all! I love Holy Cross. They did good things, too. I was really proud of Holy Cross and how they treated international students when we were stuck on campus [in the spring]. A lot of colleges told their kids to get out. But Holy Cross took great care of us when we were still on campus. I’m really grateful for that, and I love Holy Cross for that. It’s just, this one particular incident was particularly disappointing.”

Renée’s family and professors have been her main sources of support during the semester. She said, “Professors at Holy Cross are awesome. I love the professors at Holy Cross. If anyone asks me why they should come to Holy Cross – the professors. The professors who turned me away, that definitely hurt my feelings, but at the end of the day I can kind of understand where they’re coming from. But my advisor and the professors I have now have really helped me. They helped me find my classes, they helped me with my VPN. My Zoom is horrible, so they’ve been really understanding. If I miss a class, they send me a recording or set me up with someone who has notes. The professors have been making this work, and they’ve helped us so much.”

For Renée, the most important thing the campus community can do to support their international students is become more aware of and empathize more with their experiences. She explained, “I totally understand that… because international students are such a small community, it’s hard to emphasize and to know what we’re going through. If you have friends who are international students, talk to them about their experiences. Put yourself in their shoes. When you study abroad, how do you feel then? That’s kind of what we feel like all the time. So, you know, try to understand how people live, and know that a lot of people live very differently from you and have different experiences. All it takes is a little bit of empathy, and it’s going to go a long way for making international students feel like they’re at home when they’re at Holy Cross.” 

Renée feels that the school’s community of international students was overlooked when many decisions were made about the semester, and she hopes that “the next time that something like this happens that [the administration] will be more considerate of people who live in different places.” Diversity isn’t just about letting new groups of people onto campus. Renée believes that “every person and every culture’s… voice should matter equally,” and only then is true inclusion possible.

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