Bound within borders: International student athletes navigate travel restrictions

By: Isaac Donsky, Staff Writer

Many of Towson University’s international student-athletes have had their academic and athletic career affected by COVID-19, limiting their travel plans, ability to see family and having to endure different class schedules. 

Sophomore volleyball player Danielle Gravina hails from Burlington, Ontario. When TU switched to online learning in March 2020, Gravina said she took the first flight back to Canada that she could find.

“I was initially excited to get two weeks off of school,” Gravina said. “Once I realized it would be a long time away from school and volleyball, I was frustrated.”

According to Gravina, the pandemic has changed many aspects of her day-to-day life. 

“Things have changed a lot since the pandemic,” said Gravina. “We get tested for COVID[-19] very often, have to wear masks when we play and have to be mindful of who we are seeing outside of our team.”

Due to the proximity of Canada, Gravina has been able to visit her family in Burlington several times since the pandemic began. Whether flying or driving, she has had to abide by Canada’s two-week quarantine requirement upon entering the country.

“I miss my friends, family, and pets back home a lot,” Gravina said. “But now I am used to not seeing them for a few months at a time.”

Unlike Gravina, freshman gymnast Amanda Pedicelli, who is from Quebec, has not been able to see her family since arriving on campus.

“I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be able to drive down with all my dorm things,” Pedicelli said.  “We had to call the borders multiple times to get an answer and we finally did two weeks before leaving.”

Since joining TU’s Gymnastics Team, Pedicelli says she has had a busy schedule, but has been enjoying her time at TU. 

“Honestly, I thought I would be more homesick since it has been so long, but I’ve been having such a fun time at college and I am always super busy so I never have much time to be missing home,” Pedicelli said.

Pedicelli says that she’s kept up with her family by calling them almost every day. She also considers her teammates and coaches her family away from home.

“Three of my teammates are my roommates, and we are basically sisters now,” Pedicelli said. “The older girls on the team always try to act as moms for us and take care of us when we need help. And the coaches always provide resources if we ever need to talk.”

On the contrary, junior tennis player Themis Haliou believes nothing can replace the feeling of being among family and friends back home.

“I miss how simple life is back home,” Haliou, a native of the island nation of Cyprus, said. “Cyprus is tiny, so there is never traffic, and places are never far away. You can be at the beach, and in less than an hour, you can be in the mountains.”

Haliou says she initially stayed in the U.S. until the end of April of last year, until the Cypriot embassy could get her a plane back home. Upon arrival, she was quarantined by the Cypriot military for two weeks in a hotel.

“I couldn’t leave the room or see my family,” Haliou said. “I would talk with them daily over text and video call around three times a week.”

When her quarantine ended, Haliou remained in Cyprus for the rest of the spring semester and the entirety of the fall semester. She said classes became difficult, as the seven-hour time difference led to her taking her Zoom classes at 2 a.m. Cyprus time.

“My professors understood that I had to be up so early,” Haliou said. “They would usually let me out earlier and always asked how I was. My coach was very understanding and supportive, and he would always have a weekly meeting where we would catch up on things so I wouldn’t feel left out of team activities.”

According to Haliou, studying at TU has been a very positive experience overall, but especially during the pandemic. 

“Towson University was very prepared for something that was not very familiar to them and helped us a lot,” Haliou said. “Towson University offered a lot of support and seminar that we could watch or meetings to express any of our concerns for them to answer.” 

Similarly, Gravina said that her experience as an international student at TU has been a positive one. 

“There is a community of many international student-athletes and it is very exciting getting to know where people are from and what brought them here,” Gravina said. “Towson supports the international students with the [International Students & Scholars Office] ISSO and regular emails with any important updates.” 

Coaches, teammates, and professors have all worked to keep international student-athletes comfortable and supported during the pandemic. According to Gravina, international students have connected during the pandemic because of their situation. 

“The other international students have stuck together and helped each other out,” Gravina said. “Everyone has been so supportive.”

For any international student in need of educational, travel, housing support and more, visit the ISSO page on Towson’s website.

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