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Fronteras: Border Closures Complicate International Students’ Academic Success

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Doris Cedillo, left, participates in the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley's International Education Week. She is one of approximately 750 international students studying at the border university.
David Pike / UTRGV/David Pike / UTRGV
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Doris Cedillo, left, participates in the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley's International Education Week. She is one of approximately 750 international students studying at the border university.
 Samantha Lopez is director of the International Admissions and Student Services at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Provided
Samantha Lopez is director of the International Admissions and Student Services at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

The United States is a top draw for international students, but the pandemic considerably slowed the pace of admissions. The Migration Policy Institute reports there was a decrease of 20,000 international students in the U.S. in 2020 compared to the previous year.

Pandemic-related closures at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border were just one challenge some international students have now faced for more than a year, including Doris Cedillo. She was born in Matamoros, Mexico and is pursuing a masters degree in vocal performance at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

She heard of UTRGV’s School of Music and the university’s international student program through her high school peers, and it took one trip to UTRGV’s Brownsville campus to propel her into higher education.

“I was just in love. I was like, ‘This is my home. I really want to be here,’ and it wasn't easy,” Cedillo explained.

It took her two years and three auditions to get accepted into UTRGV, and receive enough scholarships to complete her undergraduate studies. Now, as a graduate student, she continues to rely on the university’s service and resources to navigate the complicated hurdles that emerged from the pandemic.

From border closures to a halt on international travel as the coronavirus took its grip on the world, Samantha Lopez — director of International Admissions and Student Services at UTRGV — said the complications tested the program’s adaptability, but also the students’ determination and resilience.

“We have to remember that the higher education system in the US is highly recognized in the world and it's one of the top ones,” said Lopez. “For a lot of the (international) students, they understand the value of having an education in the United States and the doors that will open.”

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren