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Back to School: International Students Happy To Be In Boston

While many international students were spread across the world for the 2020-2021 school year, this much is true, they are happy to be back in Boston.

For some, it’s their first time on the Boston campus. For others it’s a return, and learning remotely only reinforced their desire to join campus life.  

A woman sits with her grandmother on a bench
Grace Hwang with her grandmother Young Ja Cho in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo courtesy Grace Hwang)

“I missed being part of extracurricular activities,” said Grace Hwang ’23, who is back to illustrating for em Magazine after stopping while studying remotely. “I definitely missed my friends, and had FOMO a lot.”

Hwang also missed going to the Museum of Fine Arts – a place she values so greatly that she knows the building’s layout – and is eager to see new exhibitions.

After the pandemic forced students to vacate the residence halls in March 2020, Hwang relocated to New York City, to live with her mother, who works for the United Nations. After her mother was transferred to Myanmar, Hwang went to Seoul, South Korea, to stay with her grandmother. The plan was for Hwang to join her mother in Myanmar in the spring, but in February 2021, the country experienced a military coup, so she stayed in Seoul. This semester, she’s living off campus in Boston with her grandmother.

Attending classes from New York went smoothly, but Seoul was more challenging due to the 14-hour time difference. Hwang said that her professors knew her situation and were very accommodating. Her Spring 2021 semester was tougher, because she had planned on being in Myanmar.

“I was going to take classes at 4:00 am for two weeks in Seoul, and then go to Myanmar, and those classes would be at midnight,” said Hwang, a Creative Writing major. “I think it affected my physical and mental health quite a bit because my sleep was completely thrown off schedule.”

While not in person, she still felt connected to her classmates through class discussions. Hwang also credited video sessions with the Writing Academic Resource Center to help with time and stress management.

Hwang said she stayed in touch with other friends in South Korea who were also attending U.S. colleges remotely, as well as fellow Emersonians learning remotely like Marketing Communication major Verita Hsu ’22.

A woman sits at table outside
Verita Hsu ’22 in Boston Fall 2019 before the pandemic. (Photo courtesy Verita Hsu)

Hsu was home in Taiwan from March 2020 to August 2021, after beginning her Emerson career in Fall 2019. Like Hwang, Hsu said attending class remotely was difficult due to the time difference.

“I took classes in the middle of the night, would go to bed in the morning, work during the afternoons, and finish school work in the evenings,” said Hsu. “My sleeping schedule was a mess and my body got worse from sitting in a chair all the time and not walking around enough. Although I did manage to push things through and did pretty well academically, I feel like I could’ve done better with less effort if I were taking classes normally.”

Last spring, Barbara Stachurska ’24 studied in Lugano, Switzerland, at Franklin University, Emerson’s partner institution, then attended Emerson classes remotely from her home in Poland during the summer.  

Stachurska said remote classes were weird at first, but proved to be helpful as she learned about things like Canvas, which is often integral to an Emerson education.

A woman smiles with a lake and green mountain in the background
Barbara Stachurska ’24 studied in Lugano, Switzerland at Franklin University in spring semester 2021. (Photo courtesy Barbara Stachurska)

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said Stachurska, who did a gap year after high school. “I had a lot of time to think everything through. That gave me a lot of perspective on what I wanted to do, and not what everyone was expecting me to do.”

She realized she wanted to study public relations, and she knew Emerson was a great fit for her.

“[Studying] public relations gives a lot of opportunities. I could do a PR agency or department, marketing, political campaigns, crisis management. There’s a lot to choose from,” said Stachurska.

On the flip side, Rocky Meng ’24, a Theatre Performance major, was on campus last year and worked as an Office of International Student Affairs (OISA) ambassador with Jason Yang, International Student Advisor at OISA, and Corey Blackmar, associate director of internationalization initiatives, to help students studying at Emerson partner United International College in Zhuhai, China.

“We tried to get those students to feel like they were on campus, although they were hundreds and thousands of miles away,” said Meng, who created the @EmersonClassof24 Instagram account. “We designed projects and programs for students who weren’t on campus. There was an Instagram takeover for a day in the life of a student on the Boston campus.”

This semester Meng met some of the students he interacted with as an ambassador. He said students are very much relieved to be in Boston, whether it’s to get involved with extracurriculars, or get out in the city .

Stachurska is also working for OISA, and is looking to get involved with other organizations.

Hsu is a member of the Emerson Skunks, the College’s Ultimate Frisbee team, and is looking to get involved with school publications, magazines, and a job. Going to school remotely made her feel like a part-time student.

“It’s nice that I finally get to see my friends again and attend events in person,” said Hsu.

Studying remotely reminded Hwang what education is really about.

“Learning online and being removed from Boston, and being in South Korea, has emphasized that school is really about education and how I find my curiosities and figure out ways to keep learning,” said Hwang. “And in terms of writing, bettering my skills, and just practicing the craft.”

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