COVID-19 and Student Life

An Ubuntu and resilience perspective on the experiences of African International University Students in the United States


  • Gashaye Melaku Tefera Florida State University
  • Kelechi Onyeaka University of Missouri
  • Nameri Conteh University of Missouri
  • Ifeolu David University of Missouri
  • Omoshola Kehinde University of Missouri
  • Idethia Harvey University of Missouri
  • Wilson Majee University of Missouri



African international students, COVID19, mental and emotional health, coping strategies, ubuntu, African resilience, person-in-environment resilience framewrok, U.S.


While COVID-19 affected all segments of the population, vulnerable social groups, including international students, were disproportionately affected. The primary objective of this study was to explore COVID-19-related experiences of African international graduate students (AIGS). Qualitative data were collected through in-depth interviews with 15 AIGS. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and thematically analyzed. Participants reported experiencing fear of the virus and anxiety about their health and their family members (individual), feelings of isolation and depression because of reduced social engagement and lack of familial support (interactional), dealing with work restrictive student visas, and loss of work opportunities (environmental/structural). The person-in-environment (PIE) and Ubuntu philosophy were useful lenses to understand the findings in the context of COVID-19 given its socio-cultural connection to AIGS.Understanding the experiences of AIGS can help inform better approaches, including institutional and national policy changes, to support not only AIGS but also vulnerable international students during pandemics.

Author Biographies

Gashaye Melaku Tefera, Florida State University

Gashaye Melaku Tefera (Ph.D., MSW, MA) is an Assistant Professor in the College of Social Work at Florida State University. Dr. Tefera is an international social work researcher with a focus on health disparities, equity, and social justice among vulnerable populations including immigrant, refugee, indigenous, older adults, international students, and low-income populations. His research is informed by various theoretical and conceptual approaches including decolonization, indigenization, intersectionality, and cultural relevance.

Kelechi Onyeaka, University of Missouri

Kelechi Onyeaka, MPH, is a Deaton Scholar at the University of Missouri and fellow at Community Health Center, Inc. His research interest revolves around disparities in disease prevention, treatment, and outcomes among the under-served populations through community-based participatory research.

Nameri Conteh, University of Missouri

Nameri Conteh, MPH, is a Ph.D. student in Health and Rehabilitation Science at the School of Health Professions at the University of Missouri. She is focusing her research on limiting the health disparities in underserved communities through policy and is interested in learning more about how immigration affects people’s health.

Ifeolu David, University of Missouri

Ifeolu David, MD, MPH, is a Ph.D. student in Health and Rehabilitation Science at the School of Health Professions at the University of Missouri. His research interest includes physical attributes of people who work in office buildings and have a sedentary life, Ebola, COVID19 pandemic, and HIV and AIDS.

Omoshola Kehinde, University of Missouri

Omoshola Benardinah Kehinde, B. Pharm, MPH, is a Ph.D. student at the School of Social Work, University of Missouri. Her research interests lie in the areas of opioid overdose and deaths among African-Americans in the United States. She is specifically interested in the social determinants of health that could be contributing to the increase in opioid deaths among this population. 

Idethia Harvey, University of Missouri

Idethia Harvey, DrPH, FGSA, is an associate professor at the Department of Health Sciences, University of Missouri. Dr. Harvey’s research portfolio focuses on ethnic minority populations using participatory models of qualitative research, chronic disease management, and health disparities among rural and aging African Americans. Dr. Harvey has served as a principal investigator, co-principal investigator, and co-investigator on federal and state grant research totaling over 2 million dollars. She was awarded R21 grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. The grant titled is ‘The Study of Type-2 Diabetes and the Rural Experience regarding Stress and Self-management behavior (STRESS) Project.’ In addition, she is the co-Principal Investigator for the Interdisciplinary Research Leaders from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Dr. Harvey is the author of more than 48 peer-reviewed research articles and 160 professional presentations. Dr. Harvey is the Associate Editor for the Journal of Ethnicity and Health and is a reviewer for numerous scientific journals. Her honors included being selected as a Fellow for the Gerontological Society of America, ADVANCE Scholars Program at Texas A & M University, and College of Education and Human Development Diversity and Inclusion Faculty Leadership Fellow.

Wilson Majee, University of Missouri

Wilson Majee, Ph.D., MPH, MBA is an associate professor at the Department of Health Sciences and Public Health at the University of Missouri. His overarching research is to explore, identify and implement place-based approaches to health and well-being of those living in resource-limited communities.


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How to Cite

Tefera, G. M., Onyeaka, K., Conteh, N., David, I., Kehinde, O. ., Harvey, I., & Majee, W. (2023). COVID-19 and Student Life: An Ubuntu and resilience perspective on the experiences of African International University Students in the United States. Journal of International Students, 13(3), 216–235.



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