The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected international students around the world. Chinese international students are challenged in their daily life and study due to the travel restrictions, disruption of research, closure of labs, and the rise of anti-Asian racism. This study investigates the challenges, especially psychological ones, faced by international doctoral students from China studying in the U.S. and explores how their social networks and support systems help them navigate their life and study during the pandemic. In light of social networks and support theory, we interviewed 20 Chinese international doctoral students studying in the U.S. and found that falling in between intimate relationships and student-institution relationships, academic departments and advisors are able to provide all types of support, namely, instrumental, informational, and emotional. Their ability to provide emotional support was heavily overlooked, especially during a global crisis. Concerted efforts must urgently be put together to deal with the mental health of international doctoral students on campus and rebuild a supportive and hospitable U.S. higher education system. This study can contribute to the scholarship of international higher education by capturing international doctoral student experiences and perceptions in this crucial time and assesses higher education institutions’ capability to support international students.
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