photo of Rafaela Capelate for profile written about her

Life as an International Student in 2020

Rafaela “Rafa” Capelate is a freshman at Wake Forest University from São Paulo, Brazil. Rafaela intends to major in psychology with a minor in neuroscience. She currently contributes to our WFU Her Campus Social Media and Marketing team and is an involved member of the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS). Rafaela discusses the many nuances of what it means to be an international student in 2020 and the challenges that COVID-19 has created. 

Her Campus: What was the process like coming to Wake as an international student?

Rafaela Capelate: It was really different because the embassies were closed. There were a lot of other Brazilian students who wanted to come and got accepted to Wake or to other colleges abroad, but they were not able to because the embassies were closed. So, they weren’t allowed to issue F-1s (Academic Student Visas) and you couldn’t make an appointment. Also, at least for my country Brazil, the border shut down because we had a lot of cases, so you could still go to the U.S., but you would have to quarantine in another country for fourteen days. I was able to come because I went to a boarding school in Massachusetts and only had to transfer my visa from one institution to another. People who are international students but have dual citizenship are also able to come. However, a lot of international students overall weren’t. A lot of my friends from Korea and China decided not to come, especially China, because it closed its border, so if you wanted to come, it would be kind of the same deal, and you would have to go through either Korea or Hong Kong. A lot of other international students either took a gap year or decided to fulfill their military service requirements like the one they have in Korea. So, most of them will enroll in 2021. 

HC: What were your feelings following the announcement by ICE that international students would not receive their VISA if they did not have in-person classes?

RC: That was really tough, especially because I didn’t know what I would be doing. I had this whole plan of coming, and my brother goes to school in Boston, so my mom would be coming with him as well. So, I would be left alone at home back in Brazil, and it really just made the whole situation very uncertain. It was like I had this whole plan, and within one day this organization says, “We’re just shutting down.” It’s also hard to know what I’m going to do; am I going to defer a year, am I going to defer a semester? I feel like I was just really shocked by the uncertainty it caused.

HC: Did you consider deferring?

RC: I did consider deferring, but then I thought about what I would do at home then. I wouldn’t be able to get a job or anything because of COVID, so I really had my hands tied. 

HC: Did your parents have any reservations about you studying in the U.S. this year since we currently have the highest number of cases in the world? 

RC: My mom had a lot of concerns, but overall, she thought it was best for my education to go, take classes, and be safe than to stay at home and not be productive. 

HC: What disparities or shortcomings have you noticed in how universities are able to cater to international students? 

RC: I feel like there was no help for international students at all here. There’s no mentor or office that has really reached out to me. For example, when I was dealing with problems like with the Visa, they wouldn’t respond efficiently, and there was just a lack of support.  

HC: Why was being on campus an important part of your fall semester? 

RC: For me, it was important because I am used to living by myself. I feel like having gone to boarding school, I had gotten used to being away from my family, so spending all that time together again during lockdown took some adjustment. I felt a lack of freedom, so to say. Also, concentrating on courses entirely online would be particularly difficult, and I don’t think I would achieve the same academic success compared to having at least some classes in person. 

HC: As an international student, how do you perceive the civil unrest in the United States? 

RC: I think it’s really important, and I am up to date about it. But, when I came to the U.S. since I wasn’t here for the peak of it, I thought it would be more evident. I know it hasn’t died out, but I felt like the school would be more invested in it and that we would be talking about it. People are still posting, but people who used to don’t post anymore.