Being an international Cornellian is rewarding yet challenging, especially during an ongoing pandemic. Travel restrictions and vaccine complications have raised concerns for international students throughout the academic year.
Now that the fall semester has ended, international students, both in Ithaca and abroad, share their plans and expectations for the summer months ahead.
Many students have chosen to stay in Ithaca to continue on-campus work and save money.
Hawi Humnessa Tolera ’25 is from Ethiopia and decided to stay on campus. She currently works for Conference and Event Services at Cornell where she is responsible for arranging housing and planning logistics for campus visitors.
“I don’t have any money to buy any plane tickets, and I knew that if I got back [home] I needed to have a lot of money,” Humnessa Tolera said. “I knew that I had to earn money over the summer because I probably need it for next year. I also want something to be put on my resume, and the summer is the only time to do that.”
Nick Mugirashaka ’25, another student working for the Service Center, chose to stay and work to make his summer more productive.
“If I stay here, I can take a class and earn some money,” Mugirashaka said. “[Plane tickets are] expensive, and my family is not that rich to afford the tickets all the time.”
Both mentioned that the vast majority of the student workers at Conference and Event Services are international students.
Mugirashaka works for RPCC with mails and people who are visiting and leaving campus. He also issues keys to people who come to campus for summer programs.
“It’s not really an intense job. We work in teams, and managers manage much of the work,” I Mugirashaka said. “Our work is scheduled based on our preferences… I feel comfortable [with my work] so far.”
Tolera is excited about helping with upcoming campus events.
“You’ll be surprised by how many events and conferences happen over the summer. There’s always someone occupying the rooms,” Tolera said. “Our next task is Reunion. There are people from the class of 1960, who would be around 80 years old, that will participate in the event.”
Other than working and earning money, students also keep academic plans on their lists.
Regardless of location, this break is also a time for international students to acquire and hone new skills that go beyond the classroom.
Back home in the Philippines, Ram Orfanel ’25 is looking to improve practical skills like driving and cooking in order to make life in Ithaca easier during upcoming semesters.
“I think it’s useful especially since I am an adult living in the U.S. with no immediate family here. so I want to have these skills to apply from place to place. It is really important for international students because you have no one else to rely on in America and you really want to be independent.”
Tolera is hoping to spend more time socializing this summer with coworkers and fellow students.
“I want to make new friends — improving social skills is my number 1 [priority]”, Tolera said. “All the people that work with the Conference and Event Services live on the same floor, and we have this community, so we all kind of know each other.”
Mugirashaka expressed how his job was able to create social connections, which was also one of his goals for the summer.
“I got to make friends. I’ve actually made friends with some of the people already,” Mugirashaka said. “I go to the gym, do sports and play basketball with my friends.”
For international students, time zone differences prove to be a consistent challenge.
Orfanel has been practicing for his debate tournament in July. However, with his teammates scattered in various locations around the world, he needs to adjust his own schedule to accommodate them.
“Obviously there is the barrier of being far away and in different time zones. Some people are in different countries, so it’s hard to make those adjustments.” Orfanel said. “Hopefully, if things permit, I might meet one of my friends for debate.”
Tolera said the time difference has interrupted her interaction with her family.
“Sometimes my parents are asleep during my time after work, so I need to wait for the right time to call my parents.”
After returning home, Orfanel said that he was experiencing a slight culture shock from his time in the U.S.
“There’s also a culture shock when you go back home because you’ve been used to the US way of life. You have to readapt to the culture [back home]” Orfanel said. “For example, I tend to use more American slang, and my friends often tell me that my accent changed or I used some words that they don’t understand.”
With two and a half months until the start of the fall semester, students are exploring how to best manage the expectations and challenges that they face.
“I kind of miss the spring semester, and I miss the learning environment, but it’s ok,” Tolera said, “I’m glad that I’m learning other skills, and I don’t hate it.”