COVID-19 Impact on a Non-native Speaking Student

BROCKPORT, N.Y.– The Covid-19 Pandemic has drastically changed how SUNY Brockport students take classes and how they are taught. Students now primarily attend classes online and rarely visit campus. Professors have been forced to change teaching methods and construct a virtual course. The change has made it very difficult on students because they now have to adapt to a way of learning they are not accustomed to. The change has had an even greater impact on immigrants who speak little English, especially for student Alejandro Medina.  

Medina moved to the U.S. from Mexico just two years ago after his father received a job as a pharmaceutical chemist in Albany. Weeks after the move, Medina applied to a number of colleges and ended up deciding to go to SUNY Brockport as a biology major. Medina spoke very little English when he first arrived at Brockport, making the transition very difficult. 

“I didn’t really know how to make full sentences in English,” Medina said. “Learning, making new friends and even just ordering food was all very difficult for me. I was also very new to the country, so I wasn’t sure how to act to fit in.”

Moving to an unknown country and the inability to properly communicate hindered Medina’s initial college transition. He had to work a lot harder in class just so he could translate what was being taught to him and relied heavily on professors’ office hours to help him further understand what was asked of him for each assignment. At times it would take him hours just to complete one simple assignment because he had to translate almost every sentence from English to Spanish. He also struggled during lab work because he couldn’t properly communicate with his lab partners and was unsure how to act because he was new to the country.  

“Going to lab was the hardest thing for me, I almost didn’t go the first day,” said Medina. “I was so sure that I was going to mess up and not know what to do because I couldn’t understand the professor or what I was learning. My classmates also scared me because of the perception some people have in Mexico have about American college students.” 

The fall semester of Medina’s sophomore year was better, but still very demanding. His language improved slightly, and he felt that he was finally beginning to fit in. 

“My grades went up from my first year and I was finally able to do parts of assignments without using a translator or asking my professor for help. I also felt more comfortable at lab.” 

Medina finished his sophomore fall semester on a high note and was highly motivated to begin the spring semester. 

“When the semester started, I felt good, I had just seen family from Mexico and was ready to learn again,” said Medina. “I really was feeling comfortable with my major and my friends, I was also able to make a relationship with a professor who let me attend some of his labs to watch.” 

Medina finally had a grasp on who he was as a college student and was ready to finish the second half of his college career. When the Covid-19 pandemic emerged in March everything changed again for Medina. 

“When I first heard about the pandemic I was very concerned for my family in Mexico, I wasn’t thinking about school. I hear people talking about the school going online but didn’t want to believe them because I worked hard to get through my first year here. I didn’t want change because I just got over a big change,” Medina said.  

The decision to move classes to an online format drastically affected Medina’s ability to learn. His English has improved but is still far from perfect, making online learning very difficult. He needed to attend class in person so he could be hands on with the information and not just rely on reading slides or listening to a lecture. Taking labs online were almost impossible for Medina to complete because of how complex biology is. He was accustomed to interacting with students and professors in person while doing lab and relied heavily on assistance and clarification on specific steps. The labs he was doing online were all computer programs and didn’t allow for students to have dialogue with professors while performing the lab.  

“I thought that I could get through it because I was certain we would have normal learning again in the fall. I needed face to face learning because I couldn’t do anything by myself at home. I hardly understood what I was doing and never had the chance to have good talks with my professors,” Medina said. 

Stressed Computer Stock Illustrations – 1,889 Stressed Computer Stock  Illustrations, Vectors & Clipart - Dreamstime
Stressed student from the change to online classes. Photo by Dreamstime.com.

When classes resumed for the fall and spring semesters most of Medina’s classes were online, including labs. His living situation and the Brockport campus looked much different because of newly implemented policies in response to Covid-19. He had limitations on when he could leave his room, when he could order food and even a restriction on library use. The accumulation of all the little and major changes made the adjustment process for Medina much harder than when he first came to the U.S. 

“When I first moved here most of my struggles were related to my inability to speak English, I was able to overcome them because I was able to have face to face interactions with my professors and friends,” Medina said.  “Now with a change to normal life and college because of Covid my limitations are highlighted and more exposed. My English is better now when compared to two years but is still very bad. So, I am basically back to where I started when I do schoolwork. I take a very long time and am always translating or looking something up. Everything is online so I can’t rely on my professors like I was before. I also had a lot of trouble joining online classes and submitting or finding course work because I couldn’t properly translate what was asked of me,” Medina said. 

Medina struggled a lot with online classes and had a hard time adjusting to the new way of life. His inability to effectively speak English and being forced to adapt again made Medina’s move to the U.S. look easy.  

“I thought moving to America and adjusting to college were the hardest weeks of my life, Covid-19 made those beginning years look like a joke. I have never been more stressed and confused in my life. I also find online learning very frustrating,” Medina said.

Covid-19 has impacted schools drastically, forcing students and professors to adjust and adapt to the everchanging pandemic. Any form of adjustment is hard and uncomfortable, especially when you are new to a country and speak little English. Medina faced the same hardships a typical English-speaking student faced, as well as being new to the U.S. and an inability to effectively communicate. The combination of all the hardships have made his college adjustment to Covid-19 very different from a typical college student.  



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