International students at Stark struggle with connections during pandemic


Kent State Stark

Jessica Cobb Reporter

Pablo Castillo, a senior music technology major from Mexico City, always dreamed of someday going to college in the U.S. 

His love for music and the art that music creates, he said, is what connected him to the music technology program at Kent State Stark. 

“It’s unbelievable to be surrounded by such talented people all the time, and to learn so much from other students and professors is amazing,” he said. 

But this year, international students have dealt with a lot of uncertainty and stress due to the pandemic, he said.

There was a time when Castillo didn’t know if or when he’d be coming back to the university, or what classes would look like if he did. 

However, Sarah Schmidt, assistant director of global education initiatives at Stark, helped Castillo through this tough time by providing guidance and reassurance, he said. 

All returning four-year students made it back to campus this semester, Schmidt said, and they are taking a combination of in-person and remote classes as possible. 

It has definitely gotten lonely because no one sticks around after school, Castillo said.

He described the Stark campus as being a “go in, attend your class, and go home” set-up. This alone makes it difficult to make friends, but with so little interaction with COVID-19, he said it’s gotten much harder for him. 

Deborah Belintani, a senior peace and conflict studies major from Brazil, also said Stark has that type of environment. COVID-19 has definitely impacted her making friends and connections this year, she said.

“Everything looks different,” she said. 

She misses the real engagement and connection she used to get under normal circumstances, she said. 

Belintani, also a student employee at the Office of Global Initiatives, created the international students organization on campus. 

She wanted to give other international students a chance to get involved and build relationships, she said, though that is more difficult this year. 

Aside from the lack of interaction, she said she worries her English speaking isn’t what it used to be when she was communicating in-person all day. 

She finds it easier to speak English than to write it, and said she struggles with virtual classes relying more on chat interaction.

She can’t just get together with her friends as she had before, Belintani said, and it’s harder to reach out to her classmates virtually.  

Belintani and Castillo visit their family as much as they can, mostly on school breaks, they said. 

Being away from her family at such a difficult time was difficult for Belintani, she said. However, online classes have allowed her to visit her family and still get classes and work done.

The students are also struggling to find motivation and how to adjust to virtual learning, they said. Especially for Castillo, who, as a music technology major, is used to a more hands-on learning experience. 

“It’s hard to find motivation without being in the in-class environment, and to find a way to separate your home space from where you do work,” he said. 

But he stays optimistic and sees how this experience can be a way to find new approaches to learning, he said.

“Though it’s difficult to go through the process without a professor guiding you through personally, it encourages you to try and solve problems by yourself and make you a better student,” Castillo said. 

Jessica Cobb is a Regionals/CCI reporter. Contact her at [email protected].


Hi, I’m Lauren Sasala, a senior journalism student from Toledo. I’m also the editor in chief of The Kent Stater and KentWired this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important news about Kent State and the Kent community. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.