COVID-19 took everyone by surprise, but it has not stopped those who are creative, with dreams and motivations.
Arizona Western College supports students from all over the world – from Italy, Japan, Bosnia, England, Spain, Germany, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Arabia, France, Mexico – with a highly developed sports system that includes volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball and softball. Usually, International athletes stay at the dorms, and the college rose to the challenge of taking care of them.
During March, as the virus was spreading across the U.S. and Arizona, AWC was taking precautions, beginning with converting all classes to online. Everyone was challenged by the change – professors who have been used to delivering their classes face-to-face as well as students who had to organize their time carefully to complete all their assignments.
Another challenge, especially for international students, was the constantly evolving information they received on how to proceed. Should they return to their native countries and continue their classes or stay in the dorms? After a few days, the conclusion was that they could return to their countries.
Unfortunately, at that point, the situation was already complicated. Many students from Mexico traveled just before the border closed, and other students were able to fly back to their home countries. Others had their flights postponed, and a few could not fly back home because the airports were closed, so not everyone had the luck of ending up in their native countries with their families.
AWC basketball player Christos Hadjicostas could not fly back to his native Cyprus because the airport was closed.
“It was a tough moment for me knowing that I wasn’t able to spend the self-quarantine with my loved ones,” Christos said, “but I’m grateful that I could stay at the dorms in AWC.”
Hadjicostas took advantage of his isolation by organizing his time wisely.
“I’m focusing on my classes, goals and working out on my own to stay in shape,” he said, adding that having a positive mindset is the key.
The college continued providing food to dorm students, and some nearby families have taken care of these stranded students as if they were family. For example, another basketball player, Hailouf from Algeria, spent his time with the Rooks family.
“I was sad and feeling alone by knowing I couldn’t go back home,” Hailouf said. “I was thinking all the time about my family, my relationship with friends and how this virus makes us be far from each other, but my experience with Wayne Rooks and his family was awesome. I wish I known them before.”
For Hailouf, this family came along at the right moment of his life because they made him feel at home, and they even made something special for his birthday.
Christina Rooks admires the courage of these students who leave everything and travel across the world for better education, and she tries to keep things positive and normal so they can continue school without feeling alone or scared..
“Some don’t even speak the English language – what courage!” said Rooks. “The simple idea that they are so far from home during a time like this, with this pandemic, can be frightening for these students. We are blessed in the fact that we can step in and take them into our home as our own children.”
The Rooks family enjoy their home being filled with different cultures, she added.
The college and its extended community never hesitated in attending to those students who had to stay on campus until the situation stabilized. From home or the dormitories, student-athletes have kept up their educational activities. They have adapted to the situation, and of course they’re taking the necessary precautions.
About the photos:
Photo 1: Abderrahmane Hailof, from Algeria, in his cap and international stole, class of 2020. Photo courtesy of Aybuke Keehn, Director of International Student Programs, downloaded from the Facebook Group AWC Commencement 2020.
Photo 2: Christos Hadjicostas, from Cyprus, in his cap and international stole, AWC Class of 2020. Photo courtesy of Aybuke Keehn, Director of International Student Programs, downloaded from the Facebook Group AWC Commencement 2020.