The Daily Gamecock

Home away from home: International students find solace amid pandemic

Nowrin Tamanna, a graduate epidemiology student, poses in front of Yosemite Valley.
Nowrin Tamanna, a graduate epidemiology student, poses in front of Yosemite Valley.

From cherished buildings and faculty to fascinating spectacles and disappointments, international students at USC have experienced a wave of emotions.

Radhika Ranganathan, a graduate epidemiology student, said coming to the United States was her first official international visit. Having to leave her family in India was tough, she said.

Headshot of Radhika Ranganathan, a graduate epidemiology student at the University of South Carolina. Ranganathan said coming to the United States was her first official international visit.

"My family has been very supportive in all my career decisions, being a woman. Like, I was able to come out of the stigma of women being — staying at home," Ranganathan said. "Everything sounded new to me, right from people, culture, talking, eating."

International travel and studies alone pose obstacles, but the pandemic added a whole other aspect in navigating a life abroad. Since moving here, Ranganathan said she has not had a chance to go visit family for three years. Ranganathan said she is grateful for video conferencing, but it has been a compromise.

"I feel this pandemic has pushed people to be stranded, being isolated. Communications turned virtual," Ranganathan said. "Even a small hug would have made life different. Otherwise, I would say, I am a people person; I would want that."

Nowrin Tamanna, a graduate epidemiology student, said two months into her arrival, her apartment was completely burned down. Tamanna said many things got destroyed, but the Bangladeshi community in Columbia was very supportive in giving shelter and providing for her needs.

Before the pandemic, the Bangladeshi community organized some social gatherings and personal hangouts, but all that took a sudden pause with the outset of the pandemic, Tamanna said.

According to Mubarak Bello, a graduate chemical engineering student, the social life here for him is rather mute. Bello said he loves socializing, but to "break that circle" has been more difficult than he expected.

"It's difficult to make friends. Maybe international friends are easier, but to make friends, to make real friends that are native American," Bello said. "That's really awkward for me. I'm like, 'Why am I here?'"

Headshot of Mubarak Bello, a graduate chemical engineering student. Bello said making friends as an international student has been a challenge.

For thoughts on Student Government and other matters, Bello said back at home, student organizations had a presence; people idolized them because they went out of their way to show up. Bello said he doesn't see that here. 

"If I have to ask about [organizations at USC], then someone is not doing their job," Bello said.

It goes beyond emails; getting yourself out there and making people aware of your presence is his encouragement to student leaders.

Looking back at 2018, Ranganathan said "[being different] did not prevent me from reaching out to people," and that the Buddies Beyond Borders Program, along with organizational fairs, demonstrated the importance of networking.  

"[My American friends] are very respectful about my culture, which I appreciate," Ranganathan said. "It is kind of difficult to communicate our routine. And which — I get it, it is the same from my end."

According to Bello, international students might like a big city because of the economic benefits, such as increased chances of getting internships within the city, which is a criterion USC and Columbia might not fit.

"I prefer staying in a very calm city like Columbia," Tamanna said.

Tamanna said she has enjoyed going to Lake Murray and the parks in the area, although they aren't fascinating sites such as California and Las Vegas, which she visited in the past.

Bello said he loves the outdoors and has seen many people spending time in the fresh air near the Solomon Blatt Physical Education Center, although he hasn't been.

"I like the environment; that it's possible to actually escape your own academics and have a life," Bello said. 

Ranganathan said she has found herself spending a lot of time at the Mad Platter pottery studio and Riverfront Park.

“Whenever I am off my mood, I go to the fountain place near Starbucks in Five Points, and that's my favorite spot,” Ranganathan said.

For international students, moving around can be stressful, but Ranganathan said getting to experience different places in the U.S. can be a nice way to encounter different atmospheres.

Being an international student can mean many things to many people at different times — the highs and lows of being in a foreign land are endless — but one thing remains true: A little love from another person goes a long way.