In summer 2020, facing the reality of visa processing delays, travel restrictions and other pandemic-related hurdles, Lehigh’s Office of International Affairs found itself doing the inconceivable – informing international students that they should not plan on coming to campus in the fall.

The answer was Lehigh in Residence (LIR), a residential semester that enabled students to matriculate at Lehigh and take courses for Lehigh credit at a university in their home country. To launch the program, the Office of International Affairs worked with existing international partners, and found new ones by looking to faculty and alumni networks and existing informal relationships that had potential for more formal connection.

Universities initially involved in the partnership include African University in Zimbabwe, Ashoka University in India, La Sabana in Colombia, Suleyman Demirel University in Kazakhstan, Sogang University in South Korea and others. Ultimately, as more universities moved to remote learning, Lehigh could not pursue the “in residence” option with many of the new partners. While some of the new partners were not able to collaborate on LIR, Lehigh has found other opportunities to connect virtually.

The final partners for fall 2020 were Sogang University and IES Abroad, a longtime study abroad partner that developed a custom semester in Shanghai. Sixty-five students – roughly half of the first-year international class – participated in LIR, all but two of them in Shanghai. The remaining international first-year students studied remotely.

Lehigh’s Office of International Affairs worked with the advisors in each college to put together a list of courses to ensure that students would meet their first-year requirements. They then worked with IES to hire faculty from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Fudan University and East China Normal University to teach these Lehigh courses in Shanghai. They also invited alumni in the Shanghai region to connect with the students and help us welcome them into the Lehigh community.

Two students who joined LIR in Shanghai are Haotian Sun, who goes by Benny, and Xinran Huang, who goes by Ariel. Sun says he chose LIR instead of taking Lehigh courses remotely from home for several reasons, including the challenging time difference (the time zone in China is 12 to 13 hours earlier than in Bethlehem), the ability to interact in-person with instructors and classmates, and the cost of the program.

“I won’t say the program would be exactly like the life in Lehigh campus,” he says. “It’s more like the extended version of summer school. Sometimes I feel very stressed about courses, and other times I feel like I have a lot of free time. I feel so grateful that I’ve met some instructors that are kind and responsible. I took several difficult courses and I’ve learned a lot with the help from them.”

While 36 students continued with LIR for the spring semester, Sun opted to switch to taking Lehigh classes remotely from home, mainly so he could take the courses he needs for his dual degree in accounting.

“Starting my college career remotely is somehow peculiar, especially when I started it in another country,” he says. “The lack of ceremonial activities and the college atmosphere makes it difficult for me to transform my self-identity to American college student. Remote classes certainly added distances to people, and different time schedule makes it difficult for me to meet my friends in China. However, attending school remotely is not always a bad thing. I could spend more time with my family and my cat, and it’s more convenient to live in my own bedroom.”

Like Sun, Huang chose Lehigh in Residence because she wanted the opportunity to meet face to face with classmates and because of the challenges of scheduling around the time difference.

“I got to know my classmates and get a first impression of college life,” she says. In addition to taking classes, she joined the LU Diplomats, a student club that helps international high school students get to know Lehigh before they apply and new students adjust to campus. She also got involved with Lehigh’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association.

Huang, who is studying marketing and journalism, also chose to switch to remote Lehigh classes for the spring. She attended high school in the United States, and she wanted to be able to interact with more of Lehigh’s American students. Still, she says there are tradeoffs. “I don’t feel like I know the students in my spring classes as well,” she says. “Lehigh in Residence was easier because we were all in the same classes together.”

“I want to encourage people to do Lehigh in Residence,” she adds. “It’s a way to experience something new. International students go to college in the United States because we want to try something different, outside our comfort zones. LIR is another way to do that.”

Huang and Sun are both looking forward to coming to Bethlehem in August to start their sophomore year. Ultimately, because of LIR and other outreach from areas like the International Center for Academic and Professional English and the Office for International Students and Scholars, Lehigh retained 121 of the 124 first-year international students admitted for fall 2020.