International students participate in a 'tug of peace' game during orientation.

Pandemic forces some international students to start fall semester in their home countries

Grand Valley's international students truly reflect their global roots as some new students are starting fall semester classes remotely from Mexico, Tanzania, Ghana and other countries.

Kate Stoetzner, director of international student and scholar services, said more than 250 international students are enrolled at Grand Valley for the fall semester; of that number, 34 new and returning students remain in their home countries as the COVID-19 pandemic has closed embassies in some countries and delayed issuance of student visas.

Sam Jangala, who is pursuing a master's degree in public health, made it to his host family's home in Grand Rapids within days of learning his visa had been approved by officials in India.

"On August 11, I learned I got approval for my student visa. I had 12 hours to pack and get to the nearest airport," Jangala said. "That airport was closed, so we drove to a different airport and I arrived in Grand Rapids on August 19."


student wearing mask prepares to catch a water balloon
Ashley Bautista Pangan, a PEEPS volunteer program participant, prepares to catch a water balloon during an orientation activity for new international students.
Kendra Stanley-Mills
students outside playing chicken tag, wearing masks throwing a rubber chicken
Vimbainashe Kuzanga, an international student from Zimbabwe, throws a rubber chicken during a tag game.
Amanda Pitts

Jangala earned a bachelor's degree from Calvin University and wanted to return to the familiarity of West Michigan for an advanced degree.

Stoetzner said international students who are living on campus or in the area were asked to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.  

Jubeck Mwang'onda will begin classes in supply chain management from Tanzania. He said while COVID-19 deaths and cases have subsided in the East African country, the U.S. embassy there remains closed. Mwang'onda praised the faculty and staff members he has connected with so far for being responsive when communicating and keeping him updated.

Bridgart Andoh, who is majoring in communication studies, is from Ghana and works as an administrative assistant at the University of Cape Coast, one of Grand Valley's international partners. "I was told I could defer starting at Grand Valley until January but I followed my instincts and started classes now," Andoh said. "Hopefully, I can come to campus in December or January for in-person classes."

International students who are on campus participated in virtual and socially distant in-person orientation activities hosted by the Padnos International Center. 


two people during a water balloon game, balloon breaks in student's face, lots of water
Sepehr Taghavi catches a water balloon as it breaks, while Bach Thoi looks on. New international students attended virtual and socially distant in-person orientation activities hosted by the Padnos International Center.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills