Senior Nikki Gupta has not seen her parents in almost two years. When she graduates, her parents, who moved to India from China last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, will not be able to attend. India is currently under lockdown due to a rise in cases of COVID-19.

Kristen Aquilino, director of International Student Services, said Gupta is one of many international students at Elon University who will not be able to celebrate with their families because of the pandemic.

“With the way travel has been, either flights have become incredibly expensive, or there are travel restrictions, or it’s simply not in everyone’s best interest to do so,” Aquilino said.

Despite not seeing her family for graduation, Gupta, a strategic communications and cinema and television arts double major, is looking forward to celebrating graduation with her best friend, senior Kelsey Manzano.

Manzano was Gupta’s roommate freshman year and they have lived together for the past four years. Gupta has been able to celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas with Manzano’s family during her time at Elon. 

“Her family has essentially adopted me at this point,” Gupta said.

Manzano and her family have helped Gupta during the pandemic — taking her in and assisting her in finding a place to stay while she figures out her plans post-graduation. Gupta said she and Manzano are planning to live together in Charlotte after graduation while they search for jobs. Gupta hopes to find a remote job working in the communications industry. 

Thida Kim, a senior studying project management and human services studies, said although she will not be celebrating graduation with her family, she will return to her home country of Cambodia to work at an international school as a high school advisor. 

"Doing volunteer work and helping people, it just brings me so much joy to be able to know that I'm helping make someone's life, lives, better."

Thida Kim

Elon University Senior

“That is something I’ve been interested in doing for a while,” Kim said, “While studying here, I had been doing some internships, and some of them has involved me working with nonprofit organizations and helping students prepare for college, apply to college, find internships and stuff, and I enjoyed the work.”

Kim said the school she is planning to work at in Cambodia experienced a decrease in funding during the pandemic because of the school’s transition to online learning and lower tuition rates. Despite these challenges, Kim said she is looking forward to returning home and helping high school students in Cambodia. 

“I’ve always enjoyed volunteering in nonprofit organizations,” Kim said. “Doing volunteer work and helping people, it just brings me so much joy to be able to know that I’m helping make someone’s life, lives, better.”

However, Kim said she will not be able to begin working until at least October because of the current outbreaks of COVID-19 in Cambodia. Cambodia currently has 22,544 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of May 16, according to the World Health Organization. The country experienced a rapid rise in cases within the last month, according to the WHO, but cases are starting to fall. 

“Not a lot of places are hiring, and even with the school I got a job at, they were like, ‘Oh you won’t be able to start work until probably October because right now there’s a big outbreak in Cambodia,’” Kim said.

Gupta said she also hopes to one day return to China and reunite with her family. 

“I still consider China my home, and I still have a soft spot for it,” Gupta said. “I still have an apartment in China, but my parents weren’t there. I’m just waiting to have a family reunion in China.”