Far from Home

Romael+Haque+%28third+from+left%29+smiles+with+his+family+in+January+2020.+Photo+courtesy+Romael+Haque.

Romael Haque (third from left) smiles with his family in January 2020. Photo courtesy Romael Haque.

Romael Haque, a Marquette graduate student from Bangladesh, lost his father to COVID-19 in July.

His parents had purchased airplane tickets in January to visit their son in Milwaukee over the summer. They had to cancel their trip when the pandemic hit.

“It was painful to see that when my father was supposed to be here with me,” Haque says. “We were supposed to be enjoying the summer.”

Due to travel restrictions, timing and the likelihood of getting behind in his coursework, Haque was unable to make it home for his father’s burial.

“As an international student here, every moment counts,” Haque says. “We cannot just lose one semester, we don’t have that. … that six months is very precious for us.”

Haque traveled back to Bangladesh in December 2020 to be with his mother in person for the first time since his father’s death.

When the world shut down in March 2020, international and foreign exchange students across Marquette’s campus found themselves far from home, uncertain what travel restrictions and quarantining guidelines would mean for their ability to see loved ones.

Lars Gysbrechts, a senior and foreign exchange student from Belgium, attended Marquette during the fall 2020 semester.

“After the first time I read the email sent out last March, I was on the verge of canceling or postponing the exchange program,” Gysbrechts says. “When we came close to the deadline, I didn’t really cancel anything yet.”

Gysbrecht says that he did prior research online before his semester started to ensure that his foreign exchange experience at Marquette would not be significantly altered by COVID-19.

Sahara Adhikari, a Marquette graduate student from Nepal, describes her transition to Milwaukee since she arrived this January.

“The first month was me trying to adjust to the new environment, especially the new culture,” Adhikari says. “Everyone was wearing a mask,  so it was hard to have a conversation.”

Adhikari says her advisor, Dr. Yong Bai, provided additional support to her arrival on Marquette’s campus.

“My professor and advisor have been supportive by asking me if I’m okay, or feeling fine, and if I need any help,” Adhikari says. “The culture adjustment was hard because everyone is in their own space here and you don’t know if you should have a conversation with someone.”

Henry Yang, a senior in the College of Business Administration, is finishing out his degree from his home in China. He lived and studied at Marquette for two and a half years before the pandemic hit.

Yang did not plan to return home immediately after classes switched to an online format in March, because the international trip and time difference would make his studies difficult. He did, however, eventually get a ticket to his home in China, where he is spending his senior year.

Yang says that while he was still on campus, his friend group started following the social distancing guidelines on campus before it became enforced.

“We intentionally reduced frequency of going out and didn’t meet each other as often as we were before much earlier than March,” Yang says.

Andree Angulo, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences from Bolivia, was on spring break visiting his girlfriend in Mexico when Marquette announced its transition to online learning.

With only his bags for his Mexico trip packed, Angulo returned to Bolivia. The remainder of his belongings sat in his dorm room in Milwaukee.

“I was a sophomore at the time, living in Straz, and I had to plan out what I was going to do with my stuff,” Angulo says. “I was away and it was going to be difficult for me to come back up here, so I decided to go back to Bolivia straight from Mexico.”

Angulo paid a business to pack and store his belongings at Marquette until he could retrieve them when he returned to Milwaukee in August for the fall 2020 semester.

Yang says that every day tasks were changed drastically because of the pandemic.

“It was nice to have so much personal time at the beginning but finally, loneliness drove me a little crazy,” Yang says. “My life was not regular as it was before. Since gyms were finally closed and not many students were left on campus, I pushed myself to run in the morning.”

Originally from Belgium, Gysbrechts says that Mitchell Lawson, a foreign exchange coordinator at Marquette, contacted all foreign exchange students that were currently on campus to offer any assistance.

Angulo says Marquette provided additional support to students from outside the United States.

“Marquette sent out some emails saying that if they needed more time, they would provide some accommodations for international students,” Angulo says. “They did that for a few students, but not for me since I didn’t really need it and wanted to be at home with my family.”

While he was still on Marquette’s campus, Gysbrecht says he followed the Center for Disease Control’s social distancing guidelines.

“The experience with wearing masks was quite the same as it is in Belgium,” Gysbrecht says. “When we were in busy places, just around campus, when we had a big space of meeting, or being in a group of a lot of people, my friends and I just wore them anyway to be safe.”

Global Village, a community in Campus Town West apartments that helps foreign exchange students adjust to their new surroundings, assisted students like Gysbrecht during uncertain times.

“What surprised me the most was how many of the people from the Global Village, which was where I lived, still tried to make it worth our while when we were still there,” Gysbrecht says.

Yang says that his apartment complex on 14th St. enforced students to cooperate with the social distancing guidelines.

“They sent us emails a few times and put up a notification on (the) wall to ask everyone for cooperation and keep social distancing,” Yang says. “The landlord made disinfection of hallways a few times also, which was pretty good.”

Kelli Arseneau contributed to this report.

This story was written by Natalija Mileusnic. She can be reached at natalija.mileusnic@marquette.edu.