Tough and Resilient: International Students Fight On

ATU International Students at RVF4K Fall 2020
Volunteering at River Valley Food 4 Kids was one of the ways Arkansas Tech University international students built community and pursued a degree of normalcy during the fall 2020 semester.

When one considers the determination necessary to be an international student in the best of times, it is easier to understand how Arkansas Tech University students from foreign countries overcame the pandemic-related challenges of fall 2020.

“For international students to attend a university in a foreign country, live with a roommate from a different cultural background and take courses that are taught in their second language, they have to be tough and resilient from the first day they arrive in the United States,” said Yasu Onodera, ATU associate dean for international and multicultural student services.

That resiliency was tested when it was unclear during summer 2020 if international students could remain in the United States in the event of a possible transition to virtual learning due to the spread of COVID-19.

“Our international students learned a valuable lesson not to panic, to be patient when the situations are still fluid and to seek guidance from a reliable source,” said Onodera. “After the fall semester began, they communicated with their families in their home countries about COVID-19 cases at the university. The family members must have been relieved to know that the university has pandemic measures in place and has been successfully managing the cases.

“Imagine if your son or daughter is in the U.S., thousands of miles away from home, and you constantly hear how devastating the COVID-19 case situations are in the United States,” continued Onodera. “It really doesn’t matter whether the news they hear is about New York or California, you just cannot stop worrying about your child in Arkansas.”

Meanwhile, ATU’s international students were finding creative ways to gain the academic and social experiences they needed for a fulfilling fall 2020 semester.

“My favorite part of being an ATU student is the friendly students and faculty members here,” said Albert Zhang, a junior business data analytics student from Guangzhou, China. “I met a lot of friends. ATU really helped me recognize who I am and the future destinations I am heading forward to. Besides, I would like to express my gratitude for the opportunities ATU gave me to become a student leader and make positive changes to the local community.”

Among those positive changes during fall 2020 were a community service activity that benefited River Valley Food 4 Kids and a virtual observance of International Education Week.

A collection of informational videos detailing ATU’s International Education Week 2020 activities is available at

“We couldn’t have any face-to-face cultural festivals that draw many attendees to enjoy foreign arts, culture and food during International Education Week,” said Onodera. “Still, international students were engaged heavily in sharing their cultures and perspectives…all virtually.”

There were 216 international ATU students representing 44 nations during the fall 2020 semester.

Zhang is a leader not only within that international student population at ATU, but the student body in general. He was named ATU Student Government Association senator of the year for 2019-20, and he is serving as SGA secretary of diversity and inclusion during the 2020-21 academic year.

He hopes that international students can become even more integrated into the ATU campus culture once the pandemic is over and regular interactions resume.

“International students really show a lot of heart to step into a place that they aren’t familiar with and most of their families are away from them,” said Zhang. “For the betterment of international students’ success at ATU, we should encourage more international students to get involved in campus organizations to develop an inclusive environment. Personally, I have noticed many international students are usually by themselves and shy to talk because of cultural differences. We should have more events to open up international students to the ATU community.”

Learn more about the ATU Office of International Student Services at