Helping International Students Facing Money Issues

Hit particularly hard by the stay-at-home orders issued in spring semester were the more than 1,100 international students who not only couldn’t return home, but found themselves ineligible for some of the financial safety nets available to their American classmates. 

“We have no families here,” said Dolly Baruah, a student from India who completed her undergraduate degree at the University before continuing on to her graduate studies. “Other than the University, we have no other place to go to ask for help.” 

The majority of international students live off-campus and are responsible for expenses such as rent and utilities. Meanwhile, by law, these students are only allowed to work on-campus, either for the University directly or for its contractors, such as food service provider Sodexo.  

But as areas of campus shut down, so did student employment. 

The University continues trying to support students in this area in several ways, said Anne Dahlman, Interim Dean of Global Education. A first step was a commitment to keep paying students’ wages for their on-campus positions, such as graduate assistants, even if the students weren’t able to continue their work. 

Yamlak Abitew

For student workers who were employed by University partners and lost their jobs, University administration members came up with another way to help financially: the COVID-19 Community History Project. This project is meant to document individuals’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, using student workers to reach out to people on- and off-campus. It includes archiving diaries, journals, interviews and other documents. 

This project provides part time work for about 200 students who lost their jobs with Sodexo. 

In a positive turnaround, the University also recently extended its Emergency Grant Program—previously available only to American undergraduate students—to include international students and graduate students. The grant pays up to $1,000 toward expenses such as rent, bills or other necessities.  

The University has been steadily working on fundraising and reaching out to donors. Faculty and staff have raised more than $35,000 through their own efforts. In addition, the University is also working with Mayo Health System and Mankato Clinic to explore possible opportunities to serve students if the situation requires. 

Graduate assistants from the Kearney Center for International Students have worked as “coaches,” each regularly connecting with a number of international students. The Center also hosts virtual social events to offer a sense of connection, and it organized several virtual townhalls, where students had the chance to share both their problems and their suggestions about how to help. 

Sophomore Yamlak Abitew is an international student from Ethiopia who works at the Kearney Center. She said that she and her fellow student workers have been reaching out to other international students to ensure that they’re aware of what resources are available to them. 

These resources include the Campus Cupboard, a food shelf just outside of campus that’s run by Crossroads Campus Ministry, and the University’s Life Help website, which lists additional resources available to students. 

“We’ve been trying our best to contact students with everything that we need,” Abitew said. “[The University] sends out a lot of emails and just makes sure that we’re good. I think they’re doing a pretty good job at that.” 

“We’re trying to give students lots of different connection points, so that hopefully we can find what they’re comfortable with and give them someone to talk to,” said Kearney Center Director Jacy Fry. “We want them to come to us if there’s something we can help them with. We’ve got a lot of staff that are here, ready and able to help support these students.” 

“As of now, there’s hope,” said sophomore Ashrit Suresh, who came to the University from India. “But I dearly hope that this passes really, really soon, and I can get back to regular studies.”