For International Students, It Takes a Tent

When the U.S. government mandates in-person classes, USF holds them outdoors

By Mary McInerney, USF News Posted Thu, 12/17/2020 - 12:27

While most students spent the fall semester attending online classes from a distance, 53 international students arrived on the Hilltop under threat of law: take classes in person or lose your student visa.

In response, the university placed a large white tent next to University Center. That tent became a classroom — officially outdoors, with chairs six feet apart to meet COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Faculty offered to teach in the tent. The students became friends, and the tent became their home away from home.

“The classes helped ensure that we maintain our visa status as well as allowed us to interact with our classmates and faculty,” said Anson Tan ’23, a finance major. “It was refreshing to have a discussion without going into (Zoom) breakout sessions.”

Seventeen different classes, ranging from chemistry to economics, were offered in the tent, said Marcella Johanna Deproto. The director of International Student and Scholar Services, the office that arranged the class-in-a-tent program, noted that ISSS worked with facilities management, events management, public safety, and the COVID-19 management team.

The effort was in response to the U.S. policy, announced in July, that international students could not take a full online course load and remain in the United States. They had to take some in-person instruction or face expulsion from the country.

USF plans to also hold the outdoor classes for international students in the spring semester, after San Francisco’s stay-at-home order is lifted, Deproto said.

Warm Welcome

“Most of these students have come from other countries without having visited campus ever,” said Anastasia Vrachnos, associate vice provost of international initiatives. “This in-person session has been the first time they set foot on campus.”

That was true for Kripa Shah MS ’22. She was not just new to USF — she was new to the United States.

“I am really thankful to the coordinators for supporting me during the whole transition from India to the U.S. and also for organizing the program in this pandemic situation,” she said.

“When I entered our meeting area, all welcomed me with greetings, and I really loved this experience,” Shah said. We really had great talks.”

In-Class Connection

For faculty, the experience was positive, too. Making that personal connection outdoors in a safe, socially distanced environment was great, said Erin Grinshteyn, assistant professor in the School of Nursing and Health Professions.

Grinshteyn’s favorite moment?

“When my student and I took a socially distanced picture to remember the class,” she said.