Isolation inspires unity


By Rebecca Carroll

Nicole Maldonado poses with a photo from her high school graduation. In the photo she stands with her arms wrapped around her mother and grandmother, whom she has not seen in two years.

Rebecca Carroll, Staff Writer

Nicole Maldonado found herself stranded in Durant when Southeastern Oklahoma State University abruptly transitioned to distance learning over Spring Break 2020.

“It was honestly very sad and disappointing because I was very excited,” she said. “The [tennis] team is great and the girls are great. We were going to go to Cancun, we were halfway through the season, we were starting to feel good and strong and then everything stopped. It felt like the end of the world.”

Maldonado, a junior at SE and international student from Colombia, transferred from Collin College in January to join the tennis team and study political science.

While most of her teammates returned home, Maldonado was unable to travel back to Colombia. “I couldn’t go home because Colombia decided to close the airport March 20. There was pressure because I didn’t really have a home here. I just lived wherever I had to, moving around. I stayed in the dorms alone by myself from March to mid-June,” she said. “I thought hopefully by May, everything would be better, but the airport was closed until Sept. 1.”

As a student worker for SE, Maldonado was out of a job during the shutdown. “Thankfully, I had savings. I struggled, because everything was closed in Colombia. The way they are handling this is more strict than here. My mom couldn’t send money, and my dad was visiting Colombia and was stuck there, too. It was like, ‘What am I going to do?’”

Another challenge she faced was solitude. “I have to stay in shape, so I would run around campus, and it was just so lonely. It was so empty and silent,” Maldonado said. “The only time I saw people was when I was going to Walmart. I can handle being alone, but it was too much. At the end, I was like, ‘I’m going to go crazy.’”

Maldonado was required to move out of the dorms in May. She lived in a nearby apartment with other SE students until mid-June. She now lives in an apartment with a teammate, and is prepared if another shutdown happens.

“I’m going to stay here through November and then I’ll go back to Colombia, finally. I’ve been in the U.S. three and a half years. I was supposed to go home in May, but I couldn’t because of the virus, so it’s been two years since I’ve seen my family. I try to talk to my mom every day because we’re best friends and we tell each other everything.”

If campus remains open, Maldonado intends to start a club that encourages local and international students to get to know each other. “My project for this semester is to create a kind of model United Nations for international kids and kids from here to have diversity and be informed about what’s going on here and around the world,” she said.

Fortunately, her unusual experience this year has not changed her opinion of Durant. “I can’t say anything bad about the people here. My favorite thing about Southeastern is the people. They are so nice and friendly.”