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Stranded, scared but supported by love

International student faces challenges with help from the UC community

On March 13, in a world tossed upside down by a global pandemic, most students were headed off campus, classes were going remote, and first-year business student Komronbek Rakhimov scrambled to book a flight back home to Uzbekistan.

“Three days later, on a bus halfway to Chicago’s airport, I got the text message — all international flights to my country were canceled,” says Rakhimov, an accounting major in the University of Cincinnati’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business. “At that moment my world shattered. I was scared, confused and couldn’t stop the bus.”

UC's Komronbek Rakhimov wears a PPE face mask and head cover.

While lives changed for every student living on UC's campus during the COVID-19 lockdown, Komronbek Rakhimov found himself temporarily stranded and homeless.

Peering out the bus window over his face mask, Rakhimov endured the long, lonely journey among the other masked strangers for the rest of the seven-hour trip.

“At the airport I pleaded with Turkish Airlines to find me another flight, as I heard my country was still allowing Uzbekistan citizens to come back home even though the borders are closed,” says Rakhimov. “Sadly, yes, my country was allowing citizens to return, but not by air — all international flights were canceled around the world.”

With nowhere else to go, Rakhimov caught the next bus back to Cincinnati — but it wouldn’t leave Chicago for another four hours.

As he walked down mostly empty streets, a tired and hungry Rakhimov looked for somewhere to eat. Just as the only open pizza place was closing he banged on the door. They sold him two slices, which resulted in “the best part of my trip,” he says.

WCPO: 'Acts of Kindness' shares his story

“To be honest, after I talked to my mom and told her I couldn’t come home and was on my way back to Cincinnati, the conversation became quite emotional,” recalls Rakhimov. “When I hung up I just slipped my phone back into my pocket, closed my eyes and tried to block out the last few days.”

Throughout the ordeal Rakhimov continued to stay in touch with Sarah Shepherd, program manager for UC International Admissions, keeping her updated. 

“But when I finally arrived on the eerily deserted campus I couldn’t get back into my old residence hall. This was the worst day of my life,” says Rakhimov.

Alone and nearly homeless

UC business student Komronbek Rakhimov sits on Sigma Sigma Commons in front of Marian Spencer Hall.

Rakhimov is now living in UC's Marian Spencer Hall (red brick on right) while serving as a summer student orientation leader thanks to helpful UC staff.

After his long journey back to Cincinnati with very little food, he turned to Shepherd for advice. “Sarah literally saved my life by providing me a room in her home until I could sort things out,” he says.

After inviting Rakhimov to stay at her house, Shepherd contacted UC’s housing department to help find him a place to live.

UC student Komronbek Rakhimov stands on top of UC's entrance sign.

As part of UC International's pilot Summer Bridge Program, Rakhimov was one of eight first-year students from China, India and Uzbekistan getting a personal introduction to the campus, their new city and the U.S. academic system.

“Within days, I received word from the community coordinator saying there was a room for me in Marian Spencer Hall,” says Rakhimov. “I am so grateful for everything [Sarah] has done for me. She really turned my stress and anxiety around.”

He worked with administrator Shepherd as a student ambassador for UC International Admissions Office earlier in his freshman year.

Now with his housing predicament solved and still no flights home, Rakhimov faced a lonely summer with only a couple of friends nearby, yet he was grateful he found a job as a summer student orientation leader for UC’s College of Medicine, where he creates Youtube videos of UC campus tours for new and tranferring students.

“As a working student, I can stay in the residence hall for the remainder of the summer semester even though our orientation work is now all online,” says Rakhimov. 

To his surprise, he also received outside help from UC staff he had never met.

“While living here on campus, I applied to the UC Bearcat Emergency Fund set up to help international students and other students in need during a crisis like this.” says Rakhimov.

In the meantime, his story spread around campus through Shepherd and Jon Weller, director of enrollment for UC International.

More Bearcats step up to help

UC student ambassador Komrinbek Rakhimov holds the UC Bearcat mascot in Langsam Library.

As a student ambassador for UC's International Admissions Office, Rakhimov had fun while inspiring new students.

“[A second UC employee] reached out to help me directly with financial aid,” he says. "She doesn’t know me but simply wanted to help a student in need she had heard about. I am grateful for her generosity more than she will ever know.”

With a steady job through the summer, financial help from benevolent staff and friends on campus who are still here living in his residence hall, Rakhimov’s stress was all but over until he learned his visa would soon run out.

“I originally planned to go back to my home country at the beginning of July so I could renew my visa before returning in August,” says Rakhimov. “But with COVID changing everything, I now look forward to returning home when my country’s borders open again for air travel and plan to complete my fall semester coursework remotely.”

While he is aware of mental health resources available to students, Rakhimov has managed to work through the setbacks himself by keeping a positive attitude.

“As grateful as I am for all the wonderful help and outreach by so many people at UC, I am looking forward to spending several months back home with my family,” he says. “But there’s no question that I’ll be eager to return in January."

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Featured image at top: Komronbek Rakhimov sits in front of UC's Tangeman University Center. Photos/Komronbek Rakhimov

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