I can’t even think of the amount of times I’ve heard people talking about the “new normal” in the past five months. Although it has been an adjustment for all of us, the vast majority of Hope students got to go home to something familiar and spend this isolating time with their families. For Marvellous Ogudoro, this wasn’t a reality. His home is nearly 7,000 miles away in Nigeria, so returning to the familiar was a pipe dream for him and all of the other international students this summer.
Coronavirus rampant or not, there is a huge emotional and mental leap you have to take when you go to another country for your education. Going into it, you know that there will be challenges and difficult adjustments, but you do it anyway; it takes a lot of courage to be totally out of your element. You are forced to forego these really important connections and everything you have known for the past 17 or 18 years and be so distant from everything familiar. One of the hardest parts is not knowing exactly how long you’ll be gone.
Ogudoro had an idea of returning home at the beginning of his freshman year. A few weeks before COVID-19 hit he signed up to travel with Hope to Uganda and possibly take the time and see his family while close by. But once the global cases began to rise and campus shut down, almost any travel became a fantasy. Even this summer, he wanted to go to New York to fix his passport in order to travel home over winter break this year. But given the current state of the city and all of the active travel bans, he is unable to return home over winter break like he wanted to.
When almost all other students left campus to return home in March, Ogudoro stayed in Scott Hall for the remainder of the semester. There were only about three other people in a dorm meant for 70 or 80, so you can imagine how lonely it could get. Those in the dorm hardly saw each other. When the semester ended, he moved into summer housing, to which he said, “Hope was really gracious and helpful. They helped with food—there was a food pantry—and helped with accommodations for the summer for those of us who couldn’t make it home.” He appreciated those things so much, “although it doesn’t take away that these things were still a challenge.”
The best thing that this time showed him was the strength of the international community on Hope’s campus. They would try and meet for meals and would often check up on each other. His friends who live in the Holland area would also make sure he was doing well and often invited him over for dinner. While in quarantine he also discovered a personal strength within himself. As an extrovert and overall social person, being alone was really hard at first for Ogudoro. He remedied this in part by taking up painting and made a point to read a book a week! Most other international students took up similar new hobbies as well and had the chance to really get to know themselves and each other more deeply and explore the Holland community.
So when will he be able to go home? Ogudoro intends to travel back to Nigeria in the summer of 2021, meaning he hasn’t and won’t see his family for over two years. It is really difficult for him to not be with the people he is so close to. Going from spending all his time with them to hardly any at all was one of the hardest adjustments in the process. He always looks forward to their weekly Skype calls—which isn’t quite the same—and tries to remain positive about the situation.
Reflecting on the past few months, Ogudoro said he is “really grateful to be here, even though it has been challenging.” Sometimes the unexpected is what we learn the most from. In times of challenges and isolation, we learn the strength of our communities and friends.