A look inside International Coffee Hour

Students and faculty from around the world connect via Zoom

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Caroline O'Connor

By Liza Flandreau, Collegian Correspondent

Students and faculty met at the weekly International Coffee Hour, an event the University of Massachusetts is using to encourage community engagement during the pandemic.

The event, held over Zoom, is co-sponsored by the International Programs Office (IPO) and the Advocacy, Inclusion and Support Programs.

Pamela Dutta, the associate director for international student and scholar success, leads the International Coffee Hour and has been involved in the event for the past five years.

Coffee Hour began as an in-person event meeting in Blue Wall so that students and faculty could interact in an informal manner. But when it grew too large for Blue Wall, the social hour moved into the Old Chapel, where it was held for the 2019-20 school year.

“The purpose of International Coffee Hour is to provide a safe and social setting for international students and scholars, and UMass community members,” said Dutta.

While it’s typically held in the evening to accommodate different time zones, this year Dutta decided to hold it from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. every Wednesday.

“During the pandemic and a remote fall semester, my intention… is to give students and [the] community a way to stay connected,” Dutta said.

On Wednesday, Zoom attendees appeared from the United States, India and China. Amongst the group were faculty members who originally came to the United States as international students.

Sohini Banerjee, a Ph.D. candidate in the English department and the international student coordinator for the graduate student senate, came as another source of support for international undergraduate and graduate students.

“I work very closely with the IPO and with international students on campus. If [anyone] ever has any questions or is struggling and would like someone to chat with… please feel free to contact me by email,” Banerjee said to attendants.

After Banerjee’s offer, Alice Zhang, a sophomore finance major from China, shared her experience trying to get back home last semester. After buying 10 plane tickets and having nine of the flights get canceled, Zhang was stuck on campus through June before starting a 15-day journey home on June 24.

“I flew to Korea first… and waited in the airport for 13 hours before taking a flight to northern China, as no flights could land in Beijing,” she said. “I then quarantined for 14 days in a hotel before getting another flight home to Beijing.”

“The last day, when I finished my quarantine and left my room, I [said] ‘Oh my gosh, there is a world out here; there are people on the streets,’” Zhang said.

Liza Flandreau is a Collegian Correspondent and can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @liza_flandreau.