My name is Nicole Agu and I am an international student from Nigeria enrolled at the College of Staten Island in the City University of New York. I am currently a senior studying accounting and international business and minoring in finance and business data analytics. My journey as an international student has been very challenging yet adventurous. I do not come from an affluent background, but I have put in a lot of tears, sweat, and effort to be who I am today. My story is very unique and I have experienced so many breakthroughs and hurdles that have led me to be where I am today. I utilized every opportunity I received at CUNY to enhance my academic, professional, leadership, and personal skills. Currently, I am very involved in my college community as a student government senator and university student senate delegate on my local campus, and I represent every international student across CUNY as the vice-chair for international student affairs. I was determined to be the voice of many international students because I wanted to create a community that seemed lost for us in CUNY.
During this pandemic crisis, many international students faced housing insecurity and extreme financial difficulties. I came to the United States three years ago with a dream to pursue my college education and excel professionally. My mother, who is a widow, does not have enough to sponsor my college education abroad and provide for my four siblings, therefore, she is relying on my success to help the rest of my family. I do not have an immediate family to stay in the United States. Therefore, I have worked hard to cover my tuition and other personal expenses.
I moved into Dolphin Cove housing at the College of Staten Island as a resident because I faced housing insecurity at the beginning of the spring semester. Before the pandemic, I had hoped to remain at the dorms to give myself time to look for an affordable place to rent after the semester was over. It is hard enough to juggle several intense classes, work three jobs, and maintain my leadership positions in college. During the crisis, I used my network as a leader to confirm that college dormitories will be opened for international students who have nowhere else to go when colleges began closing. The chancellor had confirmed this through an email broadcast. A week later, every student in Dolphin Cove received a short notice to evacuate the dorm by the evening of the next day. I was getting ready to take an online test when my roommate told me the news. Feeling overwhelmed and confused, I made a few calls to confirm if the news was spam because there was no official email that was sent out to notify students and they wanted us to leave the next day. After having meetings with other student leaders at the student senate, I was informed that students with nowhere to go would be provided alternative housing at Queen’s College dorm, the Summit. Students requested a dorm refund because we would at least use the refund to pay off our tuition, especially international students who have three times outstanding tuition bills. However, we only received a dorm credit for continuing students, which does not make sense because if the student decides not to reside in the dorm again, they will likely forfeit the credit.
Due to this crisis, I was told not to come back to work, which means I cannot get paid and I will not be able to save enough money to pay off my spring semester tuition and afford rent. According to the results from the survey I shared with other international students, these students are worried about not being able to complete their tuition payment for the semester or afford rent or medical insurance. Some of them are considering dropping out, which will jeopardize their status in the country. Some students were told to go home and there are no considerations of refunding at least a partial tuition to international students. In the midst of this pandemic, the CUNY’s administration plans to move forward with increasing tuition at the expense of students. As an active international student leader, I will continue educating students on the proposed hike as well as notify them of the resources available for the CUNY community. During this pandemic, I’ll continue to plug students who face domestic violence, food insecurity or housing insecurity with the support they need to complete their studies.