The current housing shortage at UC Santa Barbara, along with COVID-19’s impact on this past remote year, has overlooked one group of students on campus, forcing them to grasp at straws: international students. 

Luca Disbrow / Daily Nexus

Fourth-year communication major and international student Julie Zhu said the COVID-19 delta variant, along with a lack of housing options on campus and throughout Isla Vista, has been a source of anxiety for her. 

“There’s the delta [variant] now and there’s no housing, and everything is just [difficult]. Everything is a problem. So with all of this combined together is our source of bad anxiety,” Zhu said. 

Insufficient housing options has caused Zhu and other international students to consider taking a gap quarter or year, especially as the university has not announced any plans to provide a remote option for courses in the fall. 

“Many of my friends decided to take a gap [quarter] because they don’t want to put themselves in dangerous living situations if they can’t find an apartment,” Zhu said.  

Zhu supports UCSB’s decision to work with local hotel chains to provide temporary housing for students on the university housing waitlist, as other schools like UC Los Angeles and UC San Diego have opted for the same temporary solution.

“They understand our difficulties, but they can do limited things. I know they can’t build a residence hall in two months. So besides providing the option for remote instruction, I think they should also consider hotel housing that students can rent for a year,” Zhu said. 

General anxiety over COVID-19 and the delta variant is common for international students who currently live outside of the United States and solely consume information about the virus through the news, according to April Zhang, second-year sociology major and Associated Students international senator. 

“When you see the news [about COVID-19], it’s always bad news,” Zhang said. “[People in the U.S. right now] don’t feel [the COVID-19 crisis], but people that are physically outside of this circle feel it more intensely and worry about it even more than we do.”

Zhang explained the vulnerability international students feel amidst the housing shortage, as many of them have not lived in the United States before and do not have much direction and assistance in searching for housing. 

“The housing crisis makes it especially hard for international students because most of them are looking for on-campus housing, as many of them haven’t been on campus [during] a previous year, so that’s the safest — and sometimes the only — option they can go for,” Zhang said. “But now it seems kind of impossible for some of them [to find housing] and then it’s also hard to find off-campus housing.”

The overall lack of connection between the university and international students in light of remote instruction this year is something Zhang strives to address as the A.S. international senator and hopes that the university will also address them sooner rather than later. 

“We definitely need to think about connecting students, especially the international student community who are abroad, as some of them might be attending this institution for half of their academic career without being on campus,” Zhang said. 

According to third-year geographic information science major Stone Shi, attending remote classes this past year from her home in China was difficult due to the 16-hour time difference. 

“I have to go to sleep maybe around 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. in China, that will be when some courses are finished or there are some deadlines. And even with no courses, I had to keep this schedule to ensure I get used to receiving participation grades by basically showing up on time,” Shi said. 

Like other international students, Shi still does not have housing for the 2021-22 school year. Despite searching for housing every day on various sites, such as Zillow and Apartments.com, since July, she and her housemates still have not had any luck.

“We open Zillow and Apartments.com every morning, and the moment we see a new leasing space, more than five applications are already submitted,” Shi said. 

Shi created a petition to demand a remote instruction option from the university for Fall Quarter 2021. In the petition, Shi backed this demand through voicing concerns about insufficient housing options on and off campus, flight cancellations between international students’ home countries and the U.S. and anxiety about the delta variant. 

“If students have housing already, they can choose to go back to school and attend in-person lectures and sections, but if [students] don’t have housing, they [should be able to] choose to not go back in the fall quarter,” Shi said. “This will release the pressure of COVID-19 and reduce the number of students on campus, and the costs of providing a remote option should be lower than [other solutions like] contacting hotels for extra rooms, as [professors] can just record their lecture and submit it on GauchoSpace.” 

To help international students through remote instruction and the housing shortage, the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) adjusted their services.

As instruction went remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of International Students & Scholars established virtual walk-in advising appointments and extended our normal advising hours so we could reach our students in whatever time zone they were located,” Shelly Leachman, deputy news director and writer from the Office of Public Affairs and Communications at UCSB, said in a statement to the Nexus. “We chose to do that because we had so many students in different time zones [that] we likely would not have been able to service some of them via live chats.”

After communicating with international students on their issues with the shortage, OISS shared these concerns with the university.

“Of greatest concern to our returning students was finding campus or local housing for fall, which is difficult to do from outside the U.S.,” Leachman said in a statement to the Nexus. “In consultation with the housing team, we directed our students to the various resources available to help them seek and secure housing.”

Overall, OISS is hopeful of the plan to negotiate with local hotels to provide additional, temporary housing for students on the university housing waitlist. 

The university also prioritized providing on-campus housing to first-year, transfer and graduate students. International students were not on that list. 

“The university is working tirelessly to accommodate as many students as possible, both international and otherwise,” Leachman said. “We look forward to the entire UCSB community joining us to welcome our international students back to campus.”

A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the Sept. 23, 2021 print edition of the Daily Nexus.

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Asumi Shuda
Asumi Shuda (she/they) is the Community Outreach Editor for the 2022-23 school year and the 2021-22 school year. Previously, Shuda was an assistant news editor during the 2020-21 school year. She can be reached at asumishuda@dailynexus.com or news@dailynexus.com.