International students battle homesickness, share their college experience during pandemic

Julia Mahavier , Life & Arts Reporter

When Ximena Mercado García returned to campus in August 2020, COVID-19 kept her family in Monterrey, Mexico, reducing her communication back home to phone calls and winter break stays.

García said the distance away from home hurt her mental health, but when she tried to book her first appointment for psychiatric assistance, the UT Student Services building didn’t offer an appointment for another two months.

“There was a lot of demand and short supply,” García, an economics and mathematics senior said. “…They were more focusing on emergencies. Obviously that’s understandable, but at the same time the fact that it’s not an emergency doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be treated.”

Like García, many international students at UT struggle with homesickness, especially during the pandemic. From exploring Austin to joining clubs at UT, international students share how they deal with homesickness and the transition to college.

“What has helped me a lot was calling my family every day and letting them know just about my day,” García said. “We do video calls every Sunday.”

García also said the vibrant Mexican community in Austin helped her cope with the homesickness, as it made Austin feel more familiar to her.

“I have met people from different cultures, and even if the culture is different from my culture in Mexico, I still feel that Austin is a really welcoming city,” García said. “All of my roommates are from Mexico, so I still feel like I live in little Mexico.”

Though he lived on campus his freshman year, Fernando Su, a management information systems sophomore, said he didn’t get to interact with the campus community due to COVID-19 restrictions last year.

“This year it was a shock seeing this many (people) at Speedway during the first week,” Su said.

Now, with a more full campus, Su said he gets to engage with diverse communities. Still, he found himself homesick for traditional meals from his hometown in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.

“To solve that, I would go out with friends and search for restaurants that served that specific dish that I was craving,” Su said.

The lack of pandemic restrictions in Texas helped Martin Braquet, an aerospace engineering graduate student, during his transition to America. He said with fewer restrictions here compared to Belgium, he could join more organizations.

“(It has been a) great experience thanks to the organizations,” Braquet said. “(There are) more activities than in my home country.”

As international students continue to join the UT community, García suggests embracing what campus has to offer.

“Sometimes homesickness can be something really hard, and then you start isolating yourself because of that,” Garcia said. “It’s better to go out, hang out with friends, not just those from your country, and take advantage of UT resources. International students should take the risk.”