In March 2020, Ball State students had their classes moved online, and many had to decide whether to isolate in Muncie or move back home with their families.
For international students, the process was complicated by travel bans and visa restrictions. Some Chinese students studying at Ball State have decided to return home after the spring 2021 semester ends, changing their original plans of applying to graduate school in the United States.
Family members’ concern amid a surge in xenophobia in the U.S. prompted Tongyi Yue, junior accounting major, to consider returning to China later this semester.
"Last month, my parents were worried about me after seeing the news that an international student in Chicago was shot and killed,” Yue said. “They repeatedly told me to pay attention to safety and not go out alone. Although I think the environment around me is safe, my parents still unavoidably worry about me. This is also a kind of mental torture for them."
Yue wants to return to China in May 2021 to study for the domestic graduate entrance exam, which includes math, English and political science tests.
Yue said it’s a difficult decision because there are many books needed for the domestic exam. She said she thinks she is already behind other students who are also preparing for this exam, but she will try her best to study before returning to China.
Luqiang Zhang, junior finance major, stayed home longer than he expected. He said he only planned to go home for the 2020 summer break but stayed in China due to travel restrictions.
“I was stranded in the country and never had the opportunity to return to [Ball State] to continue my studies,” Zhang said. “My plan was disrupted, and the year seemed to be wasted. I was at a loss.”
Zhang still needs to complete some online classes at Ball State to finish his degree, and he plans to take the domestic graduate exam in China soon.
Cherelle Dunn, international program coordinator at the Rinker Center for International Programs, said Ball State faculty are in constant communication with students in China.
“They're not forgotten at all because we're always concerned about the students that returned home, especially since they're doing everything online to complete their program,” Dunn said.
For international students still on campus, Dunn said the Rinker Center buys lunches for students and hosts Zoom gatherings for them. She said she hopes 2022 will see more international students traveling to Ball State and that the university is already working to recruit more international students.
“We are doing outreach for the admitted students that still haven't started courses or haven't come to Ball State yet,” Dunn said.
While Dunn is optimistic for next year, on-campus international students are still finding it difficult to travel home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jianyang Wu, junior business administration major, said she stayed on campus after the Indiana state lockdown due to a combination of optimism and inability to travel home.
“Many of my friends decided to go back to China and just take online courses there, but I decided to stay because my family did not think the pandemic in America would be very severe,” Wu said.
Wu will graduate from Ball State at the end of the summer 2021 semester and go back home to study for one more year at Huaqiao University.
Wu, as well as many other Chinese students on campus, are enrollees in the university’s Cooperation in Higher Education & Professional Development 1+2+1 program. The program allows students in China to begin their studies at universities at home for one year before coming to Ball State to study for two years. Students complete a final year of study at their Chinese universities, allowing them to receive bachelor’s degrees from both universities.
Shiyi Sun, senior journalism major, said there were several factors that went into her decision to stay at Ball State, but two of her main reasons were the plane ticket’s expense and the lack of online classes for journalism students.
Sun will graduate in May and has already bought her plane ticket to go back home, though she is still worried for when the time comes to board her flight.
“Although the vaccine has already spread to some people, the pandemic still hasn't been totally controlled,” Sun said. “When I’m in the plane to go home, it will still be dangerous because many people will sit around me. You can't social distance like in the classroom.”
Despite her worries of going back home to China in the middle of the pandemic, Sun believes she made the right decision to stay on campus.
“I think some students are too worried about the pandemic here,” Sun said. “Our university makes many safety measures, so I feel very safe on campus. It's the value of studying abroad that I stayed.”