Jacky Ondora never imagined being so far from family during a global pandemic, but that's what the Kenya native is experiencing while studying at Northeastern State University.
Ondora, 23, moved to Tahlequah in fall 2018 to study science and education.
"The hardest part used to be the weather. I'm used to the warm beaches and not the dramatic changes in temperature here in Oklahoma," said Ondora. "The people have always been wonderful, and I am honored to have this experience, even with the coronavirus present."
Technology has proved to be a lifeline for the past year, as it has kept Ondora engaged in courses and connected to her family.
"Leaving my sisters was difficult, but we are fortunate to be able to video chat and message one another," she said. "They wanted me to come home, but everything worked out best for me to stay here."
Having three sisters and two brothers, Ondora said living with only a roommate has been a different experience, but she is thankful for limited contact with others when COVID-19 cases are spiking.
"We mainly stay in, as we both study online and are currently not working," she said. "This keeps us safer from the virus, but we've still had a couple of weeks of quarantine when one of us was potentially exposed."
Before the pandemic, Ondora helped an elderly neighbor with chores and errands. She continued for a few months last year, but then the neighbor went to live with family.
"Family is vital, especially in uncertain times. We did all the safety measures when I was still helping my neighbor. I would wear a mask in her apartment and if we were in the car together," said Ondora. "I enjoy helping others. That is why I want to be an educator."
To pass the time during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ondora began walking on campus, playing games with her roommate, and reading more.
"We take turns introducing new games to each other, like ones we grew up with or ones we discover at the library. I've been able to read more biographies of scientists, and that inspires me," she said. "I love walking in Tahlequah. The trees and creek are calming to me."
Ondora plans to return home for a couple of months this summer, if possible.
"Although much is uncertain right now, I maintain positivity. We can control much in our lives, but we have to be ready to make adaptations as necessary," she said.