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I was sitting in my bedroom in Recife, Brazil, when the video of Columbia’s campus announcing I had gotten in opened on my computer screen. As I jumped up and down and stared incredulously at the image of Alma Mater, I still couldn’t believe it. In just a few months, I would be in New York, meeting people from all over the world and living the college experience I had dreamed of for years.  

Like most excited first-years of the 21st century, it didn’t take long for me to start following people on social media and joining groups with other students. There were countless: Facebook groups, GroupMe groups, WhatsApp groups, even unofficial Instagram profiles on which you could post  brief introductions. Everyone was eager to connect with their new classmates before finally meeting in person during the faraway fall semester.

As months went by, the coronavirus pandemic intensified, and expectations for the academic year became less and less hopeful. My excitement traded itself for confusion and questions. The social media platforms once focused on introducing ourselves became places to share and discuss theories about when University President Lee Bollinger’s email would come and what it would say. It was in those groups that every clue would be thoroughly analyzed in search of new information. 

“We’re gonna be the first college students to get ulcers before actually starting college with all this useless stress,” said one student in the Roar2024 WhatsApp group.

International students got an extra dose of uncertainty. Outside of worrying about the campus reopening, we also worried about not being able to obtain visas due to closed embassies, travel bans, government policies regarding online school, and countless other obstacles. With each of us experiencing these very different realities and with the information we needed scattered all over the Internet, it was very easy to feel lost.

Amid the chaos, my social media groups pivoted once again to become one of my main forms of support. It was reassuring to know that the issues I experienced were common to students from around the world. 

I tried to get information from official sources, like Columbia announcements, the Columbia University International Students and Scholars Office, or government websites, but they were often very confusing. When the new, now-revoked, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies were released, I almost freaked out: I was unsure about how they would affect me and how to deal with them.  The ISSO didn’t have any explanations, and for a while, I was left with little information—much of which did not sound good. 

WhatsApp came to my rescue. Discussing this topic in the Roar2024 and the Brazilians’ WhatsApp groups gave me a sense of relief and access to new perspectives. I know that, like many international students, I might not be able to arrive in New York City for the fall semester, but that fact would be way scarier if I didn’t already feel that I am part of a group figuring it out together. 

The Eye fellow Camila Braga can be contacted at Follow Spectator on Twitter @ColumbiaSpec.

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International students Brazil First-year Freshman Social Media COVID-19 coronavirus