Classes from the Caribbean

International student faces second semester of virtual learning

When Kaymah Joseph gets ready for a day of classes, she starts by writing out a schedule and a to-do list. Staying organized is her main priority and helps keep her from falling behind in her asynchronous course load, she said.

Joseph is a second-semester freshman studying marketing at Loyola but has never set foot on campus or in New Orleans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, Joseph has been studying virtually from her home country of Dominica since spring 2021.

“I feel disconnected from everything,” Joseph said. “I thought I would have had the chance to be on campus by now and have the normal college experience.”

According to Reuters COVID-19 tracker, 31% of adults in the Caribbean islands have been vaccinated. After infection rates began to rise, the country was sent back into lockdown over the summer.

Joseph said spending a second semester studying from abroad has been disappointing, but necessary, after a flare up of COVID-19 made it impossible for her to leave her home country.

Mariette Thomas, director of the Center for International Education at Loyola, said that 30% of international students found themselves in Joseph’s position in fall 2020. One year later, however, Joseph is one of only 2% of international students who are still studying virtually from their home countries, according to Thomas.

Joseph said she feels as though her education has been impacted by her status as a virtual student and that she wishes she was able to feel more engaged with her classes.

“I feel distant from my professors. They make time available during office hours and stuff but I do feel like I could get more time if I was actually on campus,” Joseph said.

Thomas said Joseph’s situation is rare and that an international student would likely never find themselves studying completely online before the pandemic. Courses offered in a virtual format were less common prior to the pandemic, Thomas said, resulting in less students swinging an online semester.

Federal regulations also limit the number of hours that international students can take virtually, Thomas said.

For Joseph, the divide between New Orleans and Dominica has been driven deeper this semester after vastly different circumstances jolted both communities.

While campus transitioned back to in-person classes in August, Joseph found herself in lockdown. A week later, her classes were halted for Hurricane Ida, though this did not impact Dominica.

Joseph said that after growing up in the Caribbean she is used to hurricanes, but to deal with the drastically different circumstances while balancing her schoolwork was intense. Not being in a campus environment has made it difficult for Joseph to stay engaged with her school work at times, she said.

“Sometimes I have to force myself to get out of bed and do my work because I’m not with my classmates; I don’t have that extra motivation. The last year has been self-motivation and actually wanting to do the work,” Joseph said.

Studying from her home country has not been all bad though, she said.

Before attending Loyola, Joseph attended a boarding school in the U.S. so that she could grow accustomed to the school system before college. While attending the boarding school, Joseph was rarely able to go home to Dominica.

Joseph said she once spent an entire year without seeing her parents and siblings. Because of this, she does not find herself in the same position of many college freshmen who don’t want to be home with their parents, Joseph said.

“Being at home has been really good; my parents have been really rooting for me as have my friends,” she said.

Joseph said she is now looking forward to the spring semester, when she hopes to finally join campus life.

“I’m looking forward to being in New Orleans, I’ve never been there before,” Joseph said. “Hopefully I can make friends and get more involved on campus because it’s kind of difficult to do that in my current situation.”