The clock strikes 3 a.m. in Hanoi, Vietnam, and a blaring alarm unrelentingly jolts sophomore Mike Dinh out of his sleep. As his family rests, Dinh is wary of disturbing the silence while he prepares to participate in a virtual class. Residing in a city that is 12 hours ahead of Chicago, he takes great pains to attend lectures in real-time.
“My parents don’t like it,” Dinh said, describing his disruptive sleep schedule and frequent daytime naps. “I had to explain that this is inevitable.”
Sleep deprivation comes with the territory for Dinh, who forces himself to stay awake at least three nights a week this term. “When the class finishes, I get back to bed,” he said.
Though Dinh prefers enrolling in courses that are taught asynchronously, some classes required to fulfill his digital marketing communications major demand in-class engagement from students.
Despite the apparent drawbacks, synchronous classes have provided Dinh with some semblance of normalcy while living 8,000 miles away. The distance has made it particularly difficult for him to engage with student organizations and pursue internships.
As a high school senior in Vietnam, Dinh was attracted to EU by the very opportunities that he has been unable to utilize for the past year. Frustrated by being shut out of an in-person educational experience, Dinh shared concerns about expenses related to college. “The tuition fee is really a huge sum of money to my family,” he said.
Dinh was encouraged to return home at the onset of the pandemic after EU instructed international students to promptly vacate the residential halls.
“I was terrified,” Dinh recalled about the sudden changes to residential housing. “With two other friends, I had to decide to pack our bags and went home in like one day.”
When rushing to move out of his room, Dinh packed lightly and was careful to grab a few essential items. “Our stuff is still at school right now,” he said.
The support extended by the EU community has aided Dinh in coping with the unpredictability of the pandemic.
“Mr. Vanaken, the president of the school, he even took us to the airport,” Dinh stated, mentioning that he felt comforted by the gesture. “It is good that in such a chaos like that, you have someone to help you.”
For Dinh, his hurried decision to book a flight back to Vietnam appeared to be safer than remaining in the U.S. “In Vietnam, we [sic] dealing with the COVID-19 very well. That is the place where I can ensure my safety,” he elaborated.
Vietnam restricted travelers from entering or leaving the country in the early days of the pandemic, so Dinh understood that he would be staying with his family until restrictions eased. Now, as EU is preparing to resume in-person learning next year, Dinh is looking forward to the possibility of reuniting with his peers in the upcoming fall.
“I’m still waiting,” he said, noting the uncertainty of the situation. “I hope I can get back to Elmhurst in August.”
While Dinh has spent months quarantining amongst family, other international students, like Teresa Nguyen, are living far from home.
Nguyen, a second-year, was visiting friends in Texas when she received a three-day notice from EU to collect her belongings from the dorms. In the event that she resolved to return home, Nguyen was informed that she would be provided monetary aid.
According to Nguyen, the price of a one-way ticket to Vietnam could not be covered by the $500 she was offered to assist her with travel expenses. Faced with the financial costs of flying overseas, Nguyen has been living with friends since.
“The ticket usually costs around a thousand dollars,” she said. “I don’t want to waste money, so I talked to my family and we just decide [sic] I just stay in Texas.”
Due to the pandemic’s disruption of her plans, Nguyen has not seen her parents or siblings in the past year.
“It is really hard,” she revealed. Nguyen has been forced to mourn the recent passing of her grandparents without the presence of and proximity to her family. “It is a lot of things going on.”
If Nguyen were to visit her loved ones, she would be obliged to report for lengthy government-mandated isolation periods.
Immediately after landing in Vietnam, travelers are expected to report to army-run quarantine areas. Following the initial 15-day quarantine on a military base, individuals must “go home and quarantine another 15 days at your homes.”
Without authorization to work in the U.S., many international students, including Nguyen, are unable to apply for off-campus employment. After Nguyen was asked by the university’s administration to leave campus, she concurrently lost her only source of income.
International students were similarly unable to obtain funds through the federal CARES Act that supplied financial grants to students of higher education.
“At that time I didn’t receive any help,” she remarked. At first, Nguyen was unsuccessful in negotiating a virtual alternate for her on-campus job.
Currently, Nguyen is an assistant for the office of diversity and inclusion, which is led by Jasmin Robinson. Robinson accommodated Nguyen by permitting her to work remotely. “It’s really nice of her,” Nguyen emphasized.
Nguyen plans on returning to campus for the fall term as a residential advisor.
Online learning has its unmistakable perks, said Nguyen, who enjoys the flexibility of rolling out of bed to pop into a Zoom meeting. “I don’t have to dress up,” she rejoiced. “I don’t have to wake up that early.”
Still, Nguyen misses interacting with her classmates in an in-person setting and occasionally feels fatigued due to the prolonged screen-time. “Now, it is just so boring.”