International Student Finds Support and Connection After a Year of Isolation

Renee Ye '24

Oxy’s adapted in-person experience has allowed international student Renee Ye ’24 to find her voice in class and a community in her home away from home.

Top image: Ye at the Bund in Shanghai

In the early spring of 2020, Renee Ye planned to get her student visa so that she could leave her home in Shanghai, China to attend college in Los Angeles. The COVID-19 pandemic had other plans. 

Ye spent her first year as an Oxy student attending classes at midnight from her childhood bedroom, struggling to stay awake and motivated in her courses. Because U.S. embassies and consulates had essentially closed down during the pandemic, Ye’s entrance into the U.S. and exit from online school was very uncertain.

“Some students had to go to third countries to obtain a visa,” says Marisa Grover Mofford, associate director of international programs. “Travel restrictions were an additional barrier. The perseverance of our international students was amazing!”

In late May 2021, the embassies opened up again and Ye finally managed to secure her F1 student visa. After a ticket to L.A. that was three times the usual price and ten extra hours of travel, Ye finally set foot on Oxy’s campus. 

She’s been enjoying the sunshine and taking advantage of the adapted in-person Oxy experience ever since. 

Ye feels safe and comfortable in her classes with the clear rules for masking and sanitizing set by the College and her professors, and the adherence to those rules by her classmates. The accessible COVID-19 testing provided by Oxy also helps ease her worries.

The masking requirements create some challenges, Ye admits. 

“It is harder for professors to interpret our level of understanding through our facial expressions,” she says. Ye has also found it difficult to make connections with classmates who have half of their faces covered with a mask. But she adds that these obstacles simply need extra effort to overcome. 

This really highlights the beauty of a liberal arts college. I wouldn’t be given as much individual attention and alternatives to prove my abilities and dedication if the class size was gigantic. Being able to reach out to the professor really helped me stay on track.

Along with the safety precautions, Ye is also navigating attending her first in-person courses in the U.S. In particular, her art history class has proven to be difficult because English is her second language and there are a lot of new terms and concepts to take in, making it difficult for her to digest the information and vocalize her understanding in class. Worried about her success in the class, Ye spoke with her art history professor. He told her about various forms of participation he accepts, encouraging her that talking in class isn’t the only way to participate.

“This really highlights the beauty of a liberal arts college. I wouldn’t be given as much individual attention and alternatives to prove my abilities and dedication if the class size was gigantic. Being able to reach out to the professor really helped me stay on track.”

Ye remembers her first year attending Oxy virtually, only wanting to finish assignments and go to sleep. Now, being on campus with support resources and close contact with professors, Ye is able to stay motivated, reach out for help when needed and begin to challenge herself further. 

One of the challenges Ye has embraced is taking advantage of the social aspect of college and building her community within Oxy. Early in the semester, Ye joined Oxy’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), where she met fellow Chinese classmates in person for the first time. 

Recently, Ye helped CSSA set up screenings of documentaries with themes of Chinese international students traveling to the U.S. 

“It was a great way to bring everyone together and for us to think of our identity as international students ... we were able to share our own stories of coming to the U.S. after the screening ended.”

Through this sense of community, Ye and other international students are able to feel connected through their stories of struggle that once made them feel so isolated.