International students use quarantine to build relationships, learn about campus

New Quarientation helps students feel welcome, get ready to succeed in spring semester
International students take their first tour of UW-Stout after finishing a required COVID-19 quarantine. / UW-Stout photo
January 27, 2021

Imagine traveling more than 8,400 miles to study abroad during a global pandemic and to be welcomed in an unfamiliar culture and destination by needing to spend 14 days in isolation.

For some international students attending University of Wisconsin-Stout, the required 14 days of quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic was both a relief, knowing that the university prioritizes health and safety, and an opportunity for the university to showcase support, create a space for students to form new virtual friendships and learn about campus services.

Eleven international students took part in Quarientation, a combination of quarantine and orientation coordinated by the Office of International Education and supported by a multitude of university staff. Quarientation started when international students arrived and entered quarantine in South Hall on Jan. 7 and 8. Students remained in quarantine until Jan. 21.

Traditionally, international students attend a two- or three-day orientation that contains sometimes overwhelming amounts of information about the campus and community, said Danielle Clarizio, OIE assistant director.

International orientation is mission critical for most institutions of higher education, as students are acclimating to a new environment. At UW-Stout it helped students learn about the campus and the services offered to foster a successful experience, including staff presentations from the Involvement Center, Student Health Services, University Dining and University Housing, Counseling Center, Registration and Records and Student Business Services.

Providing emotional and social support

“Quarientation gave us a unique opportunity to expand on orientation over their quarantine period, and to ensure our newest students had the social and emotional support they needed,” Clarizio said, noting spring semester was the first Quarientation held at UW-Stout.

Spring semester classes began Jan. 25.

Nine of the students involved were quarantined in South Hall and two had housing off campus. They are from Vietnam, South Korea, Belgium, Spain and the Bahamas. “The idea was first and foremost to let students know they are welcome here, and to use the nontraditional prolonged time to build stronger relationships and have students bond with each other virtually.”

Other students greeted quarantined international students during a micro-parade outside their windows to help raise their spirits. / Contibuted photo

Jaime Hidalgo de Calcerrada de Miguel, of Madrid, enjoyed Quarientation.

“Danielle did a great job getting us involved and making sure we weren’t feeling lonely during quarantine,” he said. “It helped me create friendships with some of the other new international students. I love Stout already. I am a big fan of the snow. I am looking forward to my classes and getting a job and exploring as much of the area as I can during COVID-19.”

Hidalgo de Calcerrada de Miguel is studying video production, which is similar to what he studies in Spain at San Pablo CEU University, a private Catholic university in Madrid. He plans to stay through this semester and possibly the fall semester. This is his second exchange trip to the U.S. In 2016-17 he visited North Hampton County in Pennsylvania as part of the Rotary International Exchange program when he was a junior in high school.

An Nguyen, from Vietnam, is studying environmental science. She attended UW-Stout fall semester completely online from her home.

Nguyen said she is excited to be on campus this semester. “Quarientation was good because it gave us things to do while we were in quarantine,” she said. “I met all the other international students like me.”

Quarantining also gave her time to acclimate to the different time zone and — even though she was largely inside —  get used to the idea of the colder Wisconsin weather.

Nguyen chose UW-Stout because the tuition and fees were affordable for her family and she received a You’re Welcome Here scholarship covering part of her tuition. “UW-Stout is a polytechnic university, and I can do a lot of experiments. It is committed to sustainability,” she said.

When she ended quarantine, Nguyen said one of the most exciting parts was seeing the campus on a tour and getting a chance to see the Bowman Hall Clock Tower.

Activities for quarantined students

Clarizio said Quarientation was challenging because students had to be registered for classes prior to their arrival, and had to be issued their laptop computers right away to make sure they had access to virtual events, noting OIE received great support from the Advisement Center and eStout Laptop Program to accomplish those tasks.

“University Housing was incredibly accommodating in providing flexibility and coordination of logistics, at one of the busiest times of the academic year. Students were also pleased by the guidance and planning from University Dining in response to COVID-19. They appreciated the quality of on-campus dining, and UW-Stout’s unique ability to cater to student needs through online food orders delivered to their rooms,” Clarizio said.

Danielle Clarizio / UW-Stout photo

Usually, Clarizio would take students shopping for essentials, including bedding and toiletries that they would not have room to bring with them. This year international students became familiar with Amazon Prime prior to setting foot on U.S. soil; they received advice from her and attempted to time online purchases to be delivered to their quarantine rooms in South Hall. Once Quarientation ended, OIE arranged for student helpers to assist with the move to North Hall.

“I think as a whole it went really well,” Clarizio said. “The most challenging thing was to ensure students were getting the information they needed to be successful without overwhelming them.

“I think we made good use of their quarantine time,” Clarizio added. “It gave students an opportunity to build stronger relationships, and us the opportunity to showcase that the entire campus community appreciates their decision to study at UW-Stout.”

Quarientation included the opportunity to learn more about U.S. culture via programming surrounding the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and presidential inauguration. Virtual social events including playing online games, a movie night and a pizza party. For the movie, Clarizio had popcorn delivered and for the pizza party had a pizza delivered to each student.

There also were micro-parades where several current students greeted the quarantined students using windows to connect from the sidewalk outside South Hall by cheering them on and waving posters for encouragement.

OIE Director Scott Pierson said Clarizio had worked extra hard to prepare and fix issues as they arose during Quarientation. “She did a fantastic job, and we succeeded as a university to help students feel really, really welcome while making sure they are ready for the semester.”

“UW-Stout’s Quarientation was an opportunity to showcase that the same innovation our students learn within the classroom manifests itself in new and exciting services they receive as part of the student experience,” he added.

UW-Stout has 93 international students attending classes this spring.

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