International students talk about university life before and after COVID


Most students at the University of Southern Mississippi followed a unique path to college. Fewer students have paved the way to fulfillment in college. Maegan Williams, a Jamaican biochemistry student, fits both categories.

Williams was originally born in Kingston, Jamaica. She lived in Richmond Park, a part of town where many faced a lack of financial resources and interest in education. The youngest of two siblings, Williams remembered the expectations she had to meet not only from her brother, but also from her mother.

“My mom, she was raised in a very strict household,” Williams said. “And school was very important to her and her mother, and so she instilled that in me.”

Entering high school, this focus on education helped her succeed. Williams achieved high marks on her entrance exam and entered Campion College, one of the highest ranked high schools in Jamaica.

While at Campion, she did a variety of extracurricular activities, including a stint on the swim team, a community service club, and a women’s healthcare club.

Williams with friends in Jamaica, fourth from left. Courtesy of Maegan Williams

Williams initially thought she would stay in the Caribbean to pursue her higher education, but eventually discovered Southern Miss at an SAT prep center. The person who told her about college was Petra Marlin, director of international recruitment at Southern Miss.

Williams remembers well the conversation she had with Marlin.

“I was like, ‘Okay, is it hot?’ She said, ‘Yes, it’s hot.’ ‘It’s cheap?’ “Yeah, it’s cheap. I was like, ‘Great, sign me up,'” Williams said. “That’s pretty much how the decision was made.”

Williams arrived at Southern Miss on January 9, 2020 for the spring semester. The transition was difficult at first. William’s accent told everyone she wasn’t from Mississippi, which meant a lot of questions.

“I should have the conversation about Jamaica and then they would tell me about their honeymoon in Jamaica, or they told me about this cruise they did and I had this conversation about 100 times,” said Williams. “I swear, I’ve probably had it like 100 times already.”

Some interactions were less annoying, but more threatening. Williams vividly recalls a run-in with her former roommate.

“The only person who ever told me to go back to my country was a black person here. It blew my mind,” Williams said.

Then the pandemic started.

The 2020 spring semester has been a trying one for many universities around the world. Most students have been forced off campus to take their courses online. However, Williams was among the few unable to return to his family back home.

Due to various travel restrictions during the first wave of COVID-19, many international students found returning home a logistical impossibility.

However, not all was bad. For most students, online classes have made it difficult to connect with others. But for Williams and other international students on campus, their friends have become family.

“It’s like you only have each other,” Williams said. “You have to – it’s survival. You have to start forming your own tribe.

While her on-campus connections helped Williams tremendously throughout COVID, there were some things about campus life that weren’t as good. One of those things was meals on campus.

“When you go through COVID, when you go through isolation and [when] you miss your family not to mention the COVID situation back home with your family all you have is food. And then the food sucks? said Williams.

After the spring 2020 semester, Williams and most of her COVID tribe decided to live off campus. This included her current roommate, Eunice Oladeji.

Oladeji is a Nigerian physician who is currently working on his Masters in Public Health with a focus on health promotion and health behaviors. She met Williams at an event with the African Caribbean Society at Southern Miss.

A community member encouraged Williams and Oladeji to become roommates, and they moved in together last June. Although Oladeji didn’t know Williams very well initially, a close friendship quickly blossomed.

“I’m not sure exactly when it went beyond ‘someone I found a place to rent with to my roommate’ to ‘a very good friend’ to…I don’t even know where we we are right now,” Oladeji said. . “But I think it’s a very good place.”

Williams with her roommate Eunice Oladeji. Courtesy of Maegan Williams

Williams has also become close with Luba Sishuba, a psychology major and soccer player. They first met in the cafeteria last year and also became close very quickly.

“Maegan is a really lovely person,” Sishuba said. “As I got to know her, I realized she was like a friend who became a sister to me.”

And like a big sister, Sishuba and her friends even taught Williams a few things, like riding a bike.

“It’s really funny because we usually make fun of her, but now she knows how to ride a bike,” Sishuba said.

Luba Sishuba, friend of Williams

That community member who installed Eunice Oladeji and Maegan Williams as roommates was Kathy Pope. She oversees iFriends, a Facebook group that serves as a resource for incoming, current and former Southern Miss international students. This Facebook group is also where Pope first interacted with Williams, and they bonded throughout the spring 2020 semester.

Although Williams relied heavily on Pope throughout his transition, Pope said Williams was also a helpful resource and presence for other students.

“If she finds out someone needs something, she always connects them to what they need on iFriends,” Pope said. “I will see her tagging people.”

Jennifer Lewis is on Southern Miss’ Legal Counsel and Associate Director of Compliance and Ethics. She became close to Williams through volunteer work. They picked and cleaned the food together, which helped international students get fresh produce.

“She knows a lot about what it’s like to be an international student here and all the barriers that are out there,” Lewis told Printz. “So, I mean, I can see it starting as a nonprofit where it’s providing and filling in some of these gaps that you see.”

Oladeji and Sishuba agree with Lewis. “I would say it’s reassuring to know that there is someone who is my friend, not because I did anything in particular, not because she expects something from me, but just because that’s the kind of person she is,” Oladeji said.


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