When Khuslen Tulga is feeling low, Miss Vige comes bearing shwarma kabob.
Khuslen, who goes by T, is one of 55 students, almost all international, still living at Hamilton College after the coronavirus outbreak ended in-person classes and sent most students off campus. Her days are bookended by video calls to her grandparents, who raised her, in Mongolia. The Internet is her only tether home after the pandemic closed the country’s borders.
But at Hamilton, her home away from home, “I don’t have to feel alone,” T, a freshman, said. Miss Vige — as she calls Vige Barrie, the liberal-arts college’s director of media relations — texts and calls and stops by with takeout from her favorite Lebanese restaurant. Sometimes they take socially distanced walks through the campus glen and talk.
Barrie is T’s staff liaison and host mother, part of a support network assembled to buoy each of the students remaining on campus. Within 48 hours of the shutdown, almost every student had a pair of volunteer mentors, one academic and one on the student-services side, said Terry Martinez, Hamilton’s dean of students. With just a few quick calls, all did.
Like many small colleges, Hamilton prides itself on its close, nurturing environment. The coronavirus threatened to upend that. “As we moved into isolation, we worried that we didn’t have eyes and ears on our students,” Martinez said.
The abrupt end to the semester and the transition to remote learning has been difficult for everyone. But international students like T — far from family and often with little sense of when they might return home — are among the most vulnerable.