USU international students face greater difficulties during pandemic

LOGAN — Oscar Diaz returns home to Honduras each May at the conclusion of the Utah State University academic year.

His parents set aside a certain amount of money to pay for his tuition and other college expenses. The fund lasts each August to June, and Diaz is able to save money by living with his parents each summer.

But in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Diaz’s plans are as uncertain as most of the world’s future.

Unable to find a flight to Honduras in the first place, coupled with the anxiety over whether or not he’d be able to return to Utah in the fall, Diaz has dealt with severe financial and emotional stress during the pandemic.  

I’m basically stranded in the U.S.,” he said. “There’s no more budget for me to stay in the U.S.”

USU President Noelle Cockett said weeks ago in a virtual town hall that 12 to 18 months could go by until things are “normal again,” though the university has not yet announced whether or not in-person classes will be held in the fall.

In the interim, Diaz is staying with his girlfriend in North Carolina for a month. If he can’t return to Honduras after, he will stay with a family member in New York.

“It’s weird because you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know if you can go back home and if you do go back home, you don’t know if you can go back to the United States,” he said. “It’s pretty rough, I don’t get to (family) that often and this is the time for me to be with them and financially it’s hard to stay in the United States.”

Diaz is one of many international students at USU with limited options during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Emmanuel Garcia has been home in Mexico for about a month now.

The USU sophomore studying economics left Utah about a week ago. Leaving the country was a process — he was required to wear a mask in the airports and on the plane, submitted a temperature check and a COVID-19 screening and answered a series of questions when he arrived in Mexico.

But the real struggle, Garcia believes, will be in re-entering the United States.

While finishing the semester and living on campus, Garcia struggled with living without friends and limited food options.

“It just happened really fast, everyone just kind of left campus,” she said. “It was just like a mass exodus of people.”

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