Navigating Through Uncertainty in the Era of COVID-19

Experiences of International Graduate Students in the United States




international students, higher education, stress coping, COVID-19, graduate students, international student mobility


With the spread of COVID-19 around the world, the lives of international students became affected by a sudden shift to online learning, sheltering in place, and travel restrictions. Drawing upon the stress and coping framework, this study explores the experiences and coping of international graduate students at a large Western research university in the United States. We employed a phenomenological inquiry of in-depth interviews with 20 participants. Findings reveal the increased levels of stress and anxiety among participants as they faced academic challenges, personal challenges, and immigration-related uncertainties. Over time, students developed emotion-focused and problem-focused coping strategies to minimize the impact of the pandemic on their lives. Participants’ concerns about the host country’s treatment of international students raise important questions about the future of international student mobility. Finally, this study demonstrates the need to develop emergency responding mechanisms of the host institution.

Author Biographies

Manca Sustarsic, University of Hawaii at Manoa

MANCA SUSTARSIC, M.A., is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Educational Foundations at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Her research interests include international student mobility and secondary school exchange programs. Email:  

Jianhui Zhang, University of Hawai'i at Manoa

JIANHUI ZHANG, M.Ed., is a PhD candidate in the Department of Educational Foundations at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Her research focuses on social-emotional learning and educational equity. Email:


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How to Cite

Sustarsic, M., & Zhang, J. (2021). Navigating Through Uncertainty in the Era of COVID-19: Experiences of International Graduate Students in the United States. Journal of International Students, 12(1), 61–80.



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