International Exchange Students Overcome Pandemic Challenges

Laure-Anne Bleuset

International exchange student Laure-Anne Bleuset came to Stockton from La Rochelle, France.

Galloway, N.J. Laure-Anne Bleuset, 23, arrived at Stockton University in January as an international exchange student from France. It's fair to say, her experience was very different than she anticipated. Fast forward to March and cue a global pandemic unfolding…

“I had to pack my things and leave the U.S. in one day,” Bleuset said. “It was a really stressful day/adventure back home.” Home happens to be La Rochelle, France, a bit of a trek.

While adapting to completing her semester from home was challenging, Bleuset said she was happy overall with the work she produced. She found her own way to navigate the five courses she was taking.

“For me, something that has worked pretty well was writing down a schedule with all my classes and the assignments due for each week,” Bleuset said. “That way I had a clear visual of everything I had to do. I'm not going to lie, some weeks were more stressful than others because we had a lot to do and it can be hard to keep the motivation going when you are at home.”

When reflecting on her most memorable times while at Stockton, she beamed, “The best time I had at Stockton was when I was with my two roommates Kirsten and Janet and also my four friends from Colombia. We spent a lot of time all together on campus and visiting Philadelphia, North Jersey and New York. We really had the best time sharing food from each of our countries (USA, Mexico, Colombia and France). I also really enjoyed being part of the World Language Tables and met awesome people there!”

The four friends from Colombia are Laura Lopez Pineda, Nicolas Morales Penuela, Melissa Ruiz Mahecha and Ivan Villalba Guavita, who also have had to evolve their initial plans and time at Stockton as international exchange students.

Due to gallery closures in the wake of COVID-19 the students developed a new format for the online delivery of their projects.

During a Zoom workshop on May 1, they talked about how they cannot wait to be able to return home and are not sure when that will be. The student-driven workshop included 15 participants: Toby Rosenthal, instructor of Communications Studies at Stockton, Mariana Smith, assistant professor of Visual Arts at Stockton, Fátima Martínez (Journalism, Human Sciences School, Universidad del Rosario), as well as other exchange students. 

exchange students in zoom meeting
Exchange students in zoom meeting

It began with everyone candidly sharing what they looked forward to most once the pandemic was over. There was a theme of seeing family and being able to travel that resonated throughout the sentiments. 

This workshop was focused on story circles and making a zine, which originally would have been done in-person. They broke out into two smaller groups to begin the instruction. The students explained how to create the zine, holding up a piece of paper and folding it in different ways to become a booklet. Their stories will focus on each other's experiences through the COVID-19 crisis. Their completed zines will be shared in a future Zoom meeting.

Additionally, they plan to conduct a zine workshop in Spanish for Colombian students and community members.

Adelina Andrews ’20 and Paige Evangelista 21’, two ARTV BFA graphic design students at Stockton, have been assisting the students in the creation of their online magazine. The magazine and additional student works will be continued in June and presented in Bogota on a digital platform. 

“COVID-19 had presented a set of difficulties but also opened up an opportunity to build a stronger connection with the friends at Stockton University, and to experiment with the new formats like the online zine workshop model, and working with Dr. Fatima Martinez Gutierrez to provide a starting point for the outreach to the Colombian students and community members and subsequent surveys,” Smith said. “The overall adjustments to COVID-19, while presenting a set of considerable difficulties, created a unique opportunity to address the essential aspects of the research-creation.”

With the pandemic news on the East Coast being so alarming, students sharing photos from Stockton allowed their parents to appreciate their location and safety, Smith said.

Reported by Mandee McCullough

magazine cover
Example of student's magazine project.
magazine cover
Example of student's magazine project.