COVID-19 presents unique challenges for international students, especially those that were unable to travel to Lehigh for the academic year. With time differences, technology difficulties and communication blocks, the voices and perspectives of international students provide the necessary feedback to ensure that their experience is as enriching as possible, even throughout COVID-19. 

The American Council on Education held a panel on Feb. 12, where speakers discussed how to maximize the international student experience. This year, the ACE/AIEA Internationalization Collaborative featured the release of Toward Greater Inclusion and Success: A New Compact for International Students, a new report from ACE.

Graduate Assistant of the Office of International Affairs, Junchi Zhang, was part of the first panel, “A Vision for International Student Success.” Joining a college president, provost, and senior international officer, Zhang spoke on her experience, both as an international student and a counselor in human services. Zhang is currently in her third year of her master’s in counseling and human services here at Lehigh and has worked closely with international students throughout her time here. 

With the barriers caused by COVID-19, Zhang said that it is critical that international students continue to feel included, even if it’s through a screen. 

“Feeling included and feeling like I am a part of the community is very important to me,” Zhang said. “Feeling connected with not only other international students, but also with domestic students means a lot.”

While Lehigh has taken great strides to include international students, Zhang said it must be an effort from the entire campus community as well. Professors, students and faculty have a role in their experience as well. 

“This is everyone’s job to make sure international students have a good experience on campus,” Zhang said. “We should hold more seminars and Zoom meetings that give international students the opportunity to speak on their experiences.”

As a student at Lehigh, Zhang said that she chose Lehigh because of the hands on experience and interactions that come with a smaller institution. 

“Lehigh has a small class size, which means people are more close to each other,” Zhang said. “I like that we have more chances to interact with each other.”

Looking towards the future, Zhang is optimistic about the future of international students’ experiences, especially once the pandemic is over. 

“The pandemic will be over and we should think ahead and prepare for the post-pandemic programming to make the experience even better for students,” Zhang.