Let’s Meet For Coffee Conversation: International Student COVID Struggles and Resources

The COVID pandemic not only brought a series of changes to our every day lives, but it also changed the type of study abroad experience for many international students in the United States.

Some COVID-related struggles for international students included transitioning to online-only social life and classes, understanding the cultural differences regarding safety, and the anxiety of understanding immigration policies.

Let’s Meet For Coffee is a live Instagram conversation where we share coffee with invited guests to talk about topics specific to international students. We talked with Stella Ko, M.Ed., a Tawainese Ph.D. student studying at the University of Denver about her experience both as a counselor and international student during the COVID pandemic.

international student voice COVID struggles and resources

Are you an international, undergraduate student from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, or Mongolia studying in the United States?

You can share your voice and participate in Stella’s research!

For her dissertation, she is researching how students from these countries cope with stress. If you take the survey, you’ll be entered for a chance to win an Amazon gift card.


Watch the entire episode here!

COVID Online Life: Friends and Classes

One of the main COVID struggles for international students, and for many people in general, is transitioning their entire lives online. However, unlike domestic students, taking all classes online actually caused an issue for international students who were physically in the U.S.

United States Immigration and Custom Enforcement (USCIS) has a rule that international students are only allowed to take one class online while studying in the United States. When COVID shut down universities in the spring of 2020, they relaxed this rule so students could complete the semester.

However, they recommended going back to the usual rule for fall 2020. This meant that any international student who was in the U.S. on a student visa and all of their classes were going to be online in fall 2020, would have to leave the country.

This caused immense amounts of stress for students across the country. Thankfully, USCIS decided not to revert back to the normal rule so international students were able to stay in the country and take their classes online. This rule is also relaxed for spring 2021.

In addition to classes being online, social life is now online. Part of studying in the United States is the excitement of meeting new people, traveling new places within the country, and just living the experience! So reverting everything to online is a drag, for lack of better words.

Cultural Differences Regarding Safety

For some international students, wearing a mask if they are sick is not a big deal. It’s pretty normal in places like China, Taiwan, and Japan.

But in the United States, wearing a mask quickly divided the country.

Many people did not have an issue wearing a mask. They felt like they were protecting themselves and others.

But other people did have an issue wearing a mask. Those who did not want to wear a mask shared they felt like it was an infringement on their freedom, felt like a mask was not necessary, or perhaps they had a medical condition where they were not able to wear a mask.

Wearing a mask when sick is not the norm in the U.S. So some international students who find wearing a mask quite normal may be anxious or confused why many Americans chose not to wear a mask during the pandemic.

COVID Relief Resources

These are just some of the struggles international students are experiencing during the COVID pandemic. To hear the entire conversation, please watch the replay of Let’s Meet For Coffee with Stella Ko, M.Ed.

There are ways to stay positive and cope while we continue living through the pandemic. Some of these tips include:

  • Basic self-care: Get enough sleep (6-8 hours), drink water, eat healthy, and exercise.
  • It’s normal to feel worried: If you are stressed, remember you are not the only one feeling this way. Talk to someone you trust!
  • Take a deep breath: Practice mindfulness exercises. Relax your brain, it will help your body relax.
  • Study in touch: Keep talking to your friends and family…either safely in person or virtually.
  • Give yourself permission: It’s OK to say no to in-person gatherings. If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t go.
  • Ask for help: It’s OK to feel overwhelmed and OK to ask for help. Going to a counselor does not mean you are weak. It means you are doing something to help solve your problem.

Check out these additional resources provided by Stella Ko:

For International Students: Tips and Resources for International Students in the U.S.

For Allies: A Practical Guide to Support International Students in the U.S. Amid COVID-19 and Anti-Immigration Policies


Are you an international, undergraduate student from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, or Mongolia studying in the United States?

You can share your voice and participate in Stella’s research!

For her dissertation, she is researching how students from these countries cope with stress. If you take the survey, you’ll be entered for a chance to win an Amazon gift card.

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