Coronavirus cuts UMKC experience short for international students

Daisy Garcia Montoya

For many students, this spring semester was an opportunity to study abroad. What no one expected was that a worldwide pandemic would cut that opportunity short.

A group of six Colombian international students, Luis Páez, Alexandra Vega Camelo, Julián Núñez, Daniela Lizarazo, Alejandro Reyes and Hiller Lozano, came to the UMKC as part of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, a collaboration between the US Department of State and other nations in the Western Hemisphere. Their experience in the US was soon soured by the coronavirus.

The students, who were from the Universidad Industrial de Santander institution in Bucaramanga, Colombia, traveled to UMKC to learn about innovations with virtual reality and augmented reality for health and wellness.

“The Colombian president wants ‘economia naranja’ (orange economy), which is cultivating the economy through creative industries such as the arts, journalism, tourism and technology,” said Páez. “We got a scholarship to come to UMKC to learn about virtual reality and augmented reality, to develop three projects and present them in Colombia.”

Through the partnership, the students participated in a seminar and a research-creation practicum to learn the skills needed to design and develop augmented and virtual reality applications.

Just as they were enjoying classes and participating in student life, the virus came to end it. When asked about their experience at UMKC, Páez and Camelo only had good things to say.

“It’s been a very pretty and fun experience. UMKC is very multicultural,” said Paez. “It allows you to be involved in sports and different organizations, and their laboratories for class are really nice.”

“As a person of Latino-background, I was prepared to face racism and discrimination,” Camelo said. “I didn’t have any encounter of that sort, so that was very good. I’ve liked it here a lot and it’s been a good experience.”

Camelo and Páez say they took full advantage of what UMKC had to offer, such as the student union, library and laboratory to study and the rec center to work out. Still, the frustration with the coronavirus situation was apparent.

“I hope that this is over before we leave in May. We want to get back to networking, experiencing the culture and return to the laboratory. In the meantime, this is an opportunity to get ahead on our studies,” said Camelo.

Páez says that although he is frustrated, he understands this is a global issue and something that must be done for everyone’s safety. Although the coronavirus ended the normal UMKC student experience, Páez and Camelo say the entire group had a memorable time.

“I feel grateful for this opportunity, even if it was for a short period of time,” said Camelo. “Everyone who we met, helped us a lot. This is something I will remember for a long time. I am happy, but I hope we’ll be able to enjoy it more.”

“I am blessed to have created new lifelong friendships during our time here,” said Paez. “UMKC is very open, multicultural and a good university to develop skills for your future profession.”

As the situation continues to unfold, the students look forward to going back to Colombia, where they will use the skills learned at UMKC to develop and present three different projects to businesses who could decide to develop them. All three projects involve creating simulators to practice surgeries.

[email protected]