Meridian Community College international student Dieter Gonzales has plans for his next academic term. "I am definitely coming back to MCC next year," he said.
In this world of pandemic uncertainty, Gonzales' determination is more than noteworthy because to say that Gonzales has endured a tumultuous spring would be an understatement.
A member of the Eagles Tennis Team, Gonzales is from Oruor, Bolivia, who came to play at MCC after being recruited in by Coach Simon Bardell. Living on campus in Elliott Hall, with other MCC international tennis players, Matt Tennant and Cainan Black, Gonzales and teammates were participating in an intensive training camp during the College's spring break. "All of a sudden, one-day Coach let us know the school was going on lockdown," he said. Tennant and Black left for home.
But Gonzales didn't have an option.
"I couldn't go home because my country had already closed down the borders," he said. He was also unable to return to his host family in Saratoga, N.Y., who, too, were already enduring stay-at-home and social distancing mandates.
"The situation in Bolivia is very rough, we are a second-world country and our health system is not the best," Gonzales said, noting his family is okay, just unable to get out only once a week. Also, the country's officials suspended international flights.
Gonazles made the best of stay-in-place on campus. In addition to his major studies, which morphed into online courses, Gonzales kept up with his training and fitness regimes. Crediting the College for a helping hand, "MCC took care of me, providing me food … and I want to thank MCC for taking care of me when I needed it," Gonzales said.
But after a while, social distancing and being by himself proved to be hard, so Gonzales is now living with a Bolivian friend who teaches at Blue Mountain College, located near Tupelo. "I might have to move again because he is going with his family to California," Gonzales said.
Hoping to go home by the end of the semester, Gonzalez may fly to New York if a trip to Bolivia is out of the possibilities. And his girlfriend, Camila Ribera, is a Bolivian exchange student living and studying in France, is also waiting for a flight home. "Our families are alright, but we are desperate to see them," he said.
In the meantime, Gonzales is positive, keeping up with his training, fitness routines and classes. "I get A's in most of my classes," he noted. But he still misses his passion – tennis. "I watch full matches every day, but it's not the same. I've been buying books about my tennis idols and trying to keep learning from them," he said.
He's also looking ahead, wanting to do his pre-season work in Bolivia. But then it's back to MCC for Gonzales.
"I want to accomplish what I could not finish this year personally and as a team," he said, adding, "I'd love to be there right now."
MCC President Dr. Thomas Huebner said he was glad that Gonzales wanted to play his first two years of college tennis at MCC. Still, he's even happier that the student is getting an excellent education and making lifelong friends. "We are thankful to have Dieter on our tennis team. Mostly, though, we love that he's an Eagle. He's a good guy, is active on campus, and makes me proud of the opportunities we give students from all over the world to study right here in Meridian," Dr. Huebner said.