COVID-19 Isn’t Enough to Stop Spring Semester International Student Population

by BLAKE PIESCHKE, CSU Public Relations Intern

The passion and desire to pursue an education in the United States has allowed Minnesota State University, Mankato to sustain a substantial number of international students this spring semester despite COVID-19. One student, Majd Alharbi, was not going to allow COVID to affect her dream of studying in the United States.

Majd Alharbi

Alharbi is an international student from Saudi Arabia who had to jump through hoops and over hurdles to finally arrive at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

“I had this goal in elementary school that I was always going to pursue my studies in the U.S., so every year I kept looking around and trying to pursue that by applying and looking around,” said Alharbi.

She was ready to start her dream of studying in the U.S. for the Fall 2020 semester, but COVID-19 would make it more difficult for her to fulfill her dream.

“Of course, when I’m ready to pursue my dream this is the time when the world decides to create COVID,” said Alharbi.

During the start of COVID, Saudi Arabia was only allowing people who had medical emergencies or proof that they were pursuing an education to travel out of the country.

Due to COVID, she had her appointment for her visa travel card declined five times and had to reschedule each time. Without this appointment, the aid from the University and starting a lease at an apartment is nearly impossible.

After receiving her visa, she needed to ask permission from the government to travel to the U.S.

“I thought this wasn’t going to take long since I had all my documents and visa,” said Alharbi. “Little did I know, it took the longest time ever, even longer than the visa appointment.”

Alharbi had been declined multiple times during this process and was starting to feel worse and worse about her chances of traveling to the U.S. After a few weeks, she was finally accepted, but still had one more obstacle to overcome.

Her major had become an issue with the government. Alharbi had her eyes set to study criminal justice, but the government stated since she was a woman, they would deny her access to the U.S. because of her field of study. Alharbi would have to change her major to psychology, while still studying criminal justice. Only now she would have to pay for her own education.

Alharbi had a list of options of where to attend college to fulfill her dream. Of all the colleges she had researched, she chose Minnesota State University, Mankato.

“Mankato was one with diversity first of all and then a friend told me to go to Mankato over the other options near the cities. My immigration advisor who works at the Kearney Center happened to speak Arabic, so that was a plus for me,” said Alharbi. “He was the one who kind of convinced me to go here because I feel like I can rely on someone. Someone who replies fast and always there to help me figure things out.”

Students as passionate and determined as her are the driving force behind Minnesota State University’s international student population this semester. The hardships and obstacles weren’t enough to stop her from achieving her goal.

‘Honestly, the reason we are as successful as we are, is because of our students. They’re happy here and they are our best recruiters and kept recruiting for us during the pandemic.’

Jacy Fry, director of the Kearney Center for International Student Services

University’s International Student Population Remains Strong

Despite the state of the world, Spring 2021 at Minnesota State Mankato posted 1,196 full-time international students. The Kearney Center for International Student Services faculty had to adjust to trying to recruit from their homes and desks with COVID.

Graphic showing statistics of international students
Director of Kearney Center for International Students Jacy Fry

“We participated in some pretty cool virtual recruitment fairs and maximized our one-on-ones and small group connections with students virtually and maximized our use of Microsoft Teams,” said Jacy Fry, Director of the Kearney Center for International Student Services.

“We were able to retain a lot of our students over the past year and use our resources that we’ve been able to gather to provide a lot of grants applied to student accounts to bring their balance down to get them ready for the next semester,” Fry said. “ We also provided students with care packages throughout the summer to keep a connection with them.”

Overall, Minnesota State University’s international enrollment dropped 6 percent, yet current students were the best ambassadors for retention and recruitment during COVID.

“Honestly, the reason we are as successful as we are, is because of our students. They’re happy here and they are our best recruiters and kept recruiting for us during the pandemic,” Fry said.

Since March 1, the Kearney Center’s Refer A Friend Scholarship seeks to give back to students for their help. The Refer A Friend Scholarship is a $500 scholarship that allows Undergraduate and Intensive English students to refer up to five friends or family members to attend Minnesota State University.  The scholarship will be awarded to the student and the person they referred in the first semester they are enrolled together.

Here is an Instagram reel describing the scholarship

kcissmnsu on Instagram: Refer-A-Friend Scholarship! Link to scholarship:

The Kearney Center is very appreciative of students withstanding the state of the world and their continued support and enrollment at Minnesota State University. Once COVID is over, there is hope that the university will have more opportunities for growth.

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