UF International Students Stuck in “Unprecedented Times”

By Lauren Wolters


COVID-19 has undoubtedly impacted all the University of Findlay’s students. However, that impact varies depending on the student, and that impact has arguably been greater on UF international students. International students already gain a unique experience by studying outside their home country.

 Timotej Iliev, a UF international student from Macedonia, describes how COVID-19 has added to the uniqueness of studying internationally.

“Before COVID-19 I was able to go home [to Macedonia] every summer. Each year as soon as classes were over, I was out of the country [the United States],” Iliev states. Now due to COVID-19 Iliev has not been home since August of 2019.

Iliev is the student design editor for the Pulse. This year he planned to go home for the summer as he had done each of his previous years at UF. But of course the unexpected pandemic altered his plans entirely.

“It was spring break when I bought my [plane] ticket. I was supposed to go home May 3. After spring break universities started to close down. The next week UF closed down. I was a part of residence life, and we didn’t know if we would be able to go home. Because we still had more classes.”

Initially UF planned to hold remote classes just through April 14, so that meant the final two weeks of class would be in person. With a whole month of remote learning, Iliev wanted to move his flight up from May 3. Before he did so he wanted his professors’ approval.

 “I had to clear everything up with my professors. I didn’t want to miss the last two weeks, so I emailed all of my professors,” Iliev said. “They said it was fine, so I moved my ticket from May 3 to sooner.”

Within a week of Iliev rescheduling his flight, Macedonia closed its airport, and he could no longer travel home. Iliev says that some international students were able to go home for the summer. He uses his friend from Bulgaria as an example of this. The friend left the United States in mid-March just before airports began closing.

Iliev reports that another one of his international friends experienced lesser fortune following COVID-19’s arrival.

“One of my other friends was waiting for a work visa which usually takes like a month, but due to COVID-19 it ended up taking four months. He didn’t know for a long time if he would be able to leave the country or be able to work,” Iliev said. “Because he didn’t have his work visa on his passport, he wouldn’t have been able to leave his home country and return to the U.S. for school.”

In this way airport closures were not the only changes keeping UF international students in the United States that summer. Iliev’s friend became stuck in the United States due to documentation delays.

Iliev did have a little help.

“During the summer, I stayed at my dad’s friend’s house,” Iliev said. “A family hosted me that whole summer. I was still trying to figure out how to get home.”

An opportunity arose on June 22 for Iliev to make it home to Macedonia.

“I could have flown to Bulgaria whose airport was still open, but I would have had to quarantine for two weeks in Bulgaria, and then for two weeks in Macedonia,” Iliev said.

Iliev is an RA, and he had residence life training in early August, so he would have had to return to Findlay then and quarantine for another two weeks. He didn’t want to spend the rest of summer in quarantine, so he elected to stay with the host family until the fall semester began.

Iliev plans to finally return to Macedonia over winter break.

“I am supposed to go home for winter break. But it’s still shaky. I don’t want to buy my plane ticket early and be stuck in Macedonia and not able to come back and graduate this spring.”

Although he hasn’t been home in over a year, Iliev has been able to contact his family in Macedonia. He calls about once a week and is updated on the COVID-19 circumstances there.

“Currently back home there is a rise in cases. There’s about 1,000 new cases in the country every day. This may not seem like a lot, but Macedonia’s whole population is only 2 million. And the healthcare is not as good as the U.S.,” Iliev said. “They can’t facilitate that many people. Overall, though, we [Macedonia] are doing well, but there is fear with the holiday season coming up. There is always fear that loved ones will get sick.”

In addition to fear, COVID-19 also brought unprecedented loneliness. Iliev felt this loneliness the last month and half of the 2020 spring semester.

“You didn’t see anyone on campus. It was just me and one other international student in my housing. That was sometimes more difficult, because I am usually more social. It was ongoing for a month and half. I would go to Henderson to pick up meals. I would pick up a to-go meal, go back to my house, maybe talk to my roommate, but that was it.”

Iliev first heard of the University of Findlay through an organization that he was a part of in high school called EducationUSA. Through the organization he learned about scholarships and the application process in the United States. He attended an American Corner event in Macedonia. There he was introduced to UF and its Global Leadership Scholarship.

“I was looking at scholarships in the U.S., and I stumbled across it,” Iliev said. “I wrote essays and they [the University of Findlay] accepted me.”

In addition to this, Iliev knew some people from Ohio, and he really enjoyed the campus visit he took to UF. Another reason he chose to attend UF was that the College of Business and center for Student Life finished construction his freshman year, which was very exciting.

In the fall of 2019, UF admitted 14 new international students. This fall the University admitted 21 new international students according to the Enrollment Management Office at UF.

The hardest thing for Iliev to adjust to when he first started at UF was the culture shock. Iliev’s father is a pastor, so he always encountered a lot of American missionaries in Macedonia.

“That’s how I learned the language [English],” Iliev admits. “I didn’t think there would be a culture shock, as I was always around Americans. Then when I got here, it was different because there is such a work ethic here, especially among college students. You’re trying to get a lot of work done in a little amount of time. Back home I had more leisure time. Back home you go out and drink coffee during the week at ‘a coffee bar’ for a few hours and just talk. There is a coffee social hour here [in the United States] but it’s in the morning.”

One cultural aspect that Iliev has grown rather fond of is the convenience and accessibility in the United States.

“I like Walmart they have literally everything. They have TVs and apples in the same store. Back home you have to go to a specific store for certain things, like a market for apples or a tv store.”

As far as accessibility, Iliev likes the accessibility of streaming services in the entertainment industry, such as Spotify, which has only recently become available in Macedonia. At UF Iliev appreciates the accessibility of resources at the library even with COVID-19 around.

“When my laptop broke down this semester, I was still able to do my homework. It’s really convenient that the libraries are still open, and you are able to do whatever you need to do.” 

Iliev understands that everyone has been impacted by COVID-19.

“People are staying home, or they are at risk, or they have family members who are at risk,” Iliev said. “Everyone is affected, maybe more so for an international student since I was not able to go home and be with my family, but we are all making the best of it.”

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