By Kate Dolan
The future is bright for Barbara Broville, a Chestnut Hill College senior and women’s tennis team captain from Toulouse, France. After graduating this coming May, she has plans to work in New York as a tennis instructor and is equipped with a business administration and sports management degree, with which she eventually hopes to work in events marketing.
“My dream is to stay in the USA, even if I love my country and my family,” Broville said. “I see my future here. There are more opportunities for me.”
To pursue these dreams, Broville began the process of applying for Optional Practical Training, an extension of her F-1 student visa which would allow her to work in the US for another year in an area relating to her degree. She applied this spring, just as Europe and the US were beginning to confront COVID-19.
“At the beginning of this epidemic, I just applied for my OPT and I was waiting to receive the ‘first step,’” Broville said. “It was too risky to leave Philly without the confirmation of my OPT request.”
The OPT application is an involved process and the first step involves the recommendation of the student’s OPT request by a Designated School Official. Broville heeded the advice of her agent, who helped her look for universities here, and who she says understands all the “foreign rules.”
“He told me that if they have any issue while I am in France before the first step, it would be more complicated to communicate with them or to fix it,” she said of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services who oversee the one-year student visa extension requests. “Usually when you apply for the OPT you do not leave the country because when you receive it, you have 90 days to find a job.”
So as Chestnut Hill College announced it would close campus for the remainder of the semester, postpone the graduation ceremony and shift all courses online, Broville decided to stay put in Philadelphia to not jeopardize her future. She watched as her two housemates and best friends, also from France, left to return home as she began an indefinite lock-down in the off-campus house they all shared in Manayunk.
Quarantining at home, Broville has been taking online classes to finish her senior year. The college tennis star has not been able to play tennis as facilities are closed but she’s been working out five times a week at home and running three times a week in the Wissahickon Park. The tennis season at CHC takes place in the fall so it was not affected, but via a group chat, Broville keeps up with her teammates, who are all healthy and safe.
Broville, a three-time Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference Women’s Tennis Weekly Honor Roll mention this past fall and the team’s MVP for the 2017-2018 season, voted with the majority of Chestnut Hill College seniors for a postponement of the graduation ceremony as opposed to a virtual commencement.
“All my family was supposed to come for my graduation,” she said. “I was so happy to show them my new life, city, lifestyle, so I want this to happen.”
In France, her family is healthy and living under quarantine restrictions that she describes as being “totally different” than here in Philly.
“You can’t leave the house except to buy food,” Broville said. “You need to leave the house with a proof of domicile because you have to go to the grocery store closer to your house.”
Going for a run must happen within a mile of one’s home, she said, and friends and family cannot visit.
Broville is planning on returning home. She is scheduled to fly out May 5 to Toulouse where she has a summer job at a bank lined up. While she waits for the OPT, she is not legally allowed to work here and she needs to make and save money this summer before heading to New York.
“If I had the possibility to start working right now in America I would rather do it than go back to France,” Broville said. “But I do not know how long it is going to take for me to get my OPT. So I can’t take the risk to stay here all summer without a job.”
Barbara came to the states three years ago and didn’t speak a word of English. She recalls not being able to ask the time when she first arrived. Now in quarantine, she is watching Spanish-language television shows to learn a third language.
A few other things she is learning: As a “hyperactive” student who would wake up early for no reason, she can sleep later than she thought. And, she is positive about the uncertainty and precariousness of the situation and the fact that she is away from her family.
“I love my family and my friends in France but I sacrificed so much to come here,” said Broville. “And now I am sure that my life is in America.”