Lions from long distance: International students share their stories

This semester, the university will see a new type of diversity within its student body: diversity of location.

Many international students have returned to their home countries and made the decision to stay until further notice, making the population of full-time students broader than ever before. 

These students have faced a different set of challenges during the rise of pandemic frenzy. They embarked on last-minute journeys home, and for some, returning home was not as simple as packing up and catching the next flight.

Italian exchange student Lisa Viviani began her journey home with a 30-hour train ride. 

Lisa Vivani, an Italian exchange student. (Courtesy of Vivani)

“We had to take a flight from New Orleans to New York, but they cancelled the flight,” shared Viviani. “The flight to Rome was only in New York, so I had to arrive in some way. I had to take the train. It lasted 30 hours, but I managed to arrive in time. When I came back to Italy, I couldn’t even hug my parents, eat with them or anything. I had to stay in my bedroom.” 

Viviani studied foreign languages at the university through a year-long exchange program. She was sad to leave on short notice but was grateful to the faculty for helping her through the chaos.

“It was my only chance to be at Southeastern, so I was really sad to go back to Italy,” said Viviani. “Actually, I have to thank Southeastern because they helped me more than my university in Italy did. The teachers in the language department have been amazing. They helped me a lot with everything.” 

Nele Gudermann, a sophomore psychology major from Germany, felt supported by the campus community as well.

“It was very uncertain at that time,” noted Gudermann. “Nobody had any information really, but my coach helped me a lot during that time. I had a lot of friends helping me move my stuff and driving me to the airport. One of my professors, Professor Adelmann, she’s so sweet. She said that I could put all my belongings in her house while I was in Germany, and that helped a lot as well. I feel like everybody did their best in that crazy situation.”

Nele Gudermann poses next to a fellow international students at the annual Holi festival. (Courtesy of Gudermann.)

After saying goodbye to their Hammond family, international students also adapted to taking their classes in different time zones.

From Cyprus, an island country in the Mediterranean Sea, senior kinesiology major Michalis Andreou completed his semester with an eight-hour time difference. 

“Thankfully, all of my professors were very helpful with my situation and the time difference,” shared Andreou. “With that being said, I had to stay up late to take my exams. For me, it was kind of hard to focus on my exams and homework, since I’m a person that works better if I have the right environment, and my home was not of them. I tried my best though and ended up with a good GPA.”

Michalis Andreou, a senior athlete, has been running track meets in his home country, Cyprus. (Courtesy of Andreou)

Andreou chose the university for its kinesiology program as well as its track and field team, which he was disappointed to leave behind.

“COVID-19 really messed our plans as a team,” commented Andreou. “We were all in good shape and ready to get first place at the conference and the ring. Unfortunately, things changed, but we are more motivated for next year so we can finish what we’ve started. Individually, I kept practicing when I arrived home, and I’m currently running a few track meets in my home country.”

Gudermann, who also came to Louisiana for track and field, knew the university was the one for her before even setting foot on campus last year.

“It was crazy how familiar I felt with the university before I visited it in person,” mentioned Gudermann. “It was really welcoming and open-minded, and the campus is so pretty. Plus, it’s so warm in Louisiana, which is great for doing track and field.

All of those things added up, and that’s why I chose Southeastern.” Looking back on last semester, Gudermann thanked the university for taking her challenges seriously.

“I just want to say that I felt people took me seriously about my concerns when I left the States,” expressed Gudermann. “I know many universities didn’t take the international students very seriously. I felt very understood. I couldn’t ask for a better coach or university.”