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Opinion: How are international students surviving after a year of COVID-19 ?

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It’s been a year since the lockdown due to COVID-19. We, international students, have been through so much mess in every aspect possible. 

We went through the time when former President Trump’s administration tried to kick us out of the country last July if we enrolled online. We’ve avoided telling our family how much we are struggling because they’re experiencing the same thing or worse. Online learning and homework have haunted us and become twice as hard to keep on track with. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) took ages to process our documents. Some lost hope for H1-B visas due to the change of regulation. We’ve been miserable whenever looking at the balance in our bank account. We had to move to a cheaper place because we could no longer afford the current one. Stress, anxiety, depression? We have them every day. And yet, we are still fighting to stay and continue our journey in the country we believe in. 

I made several attempts to get a hold of my fellow international students for some comments about this topic, but it was more difficult than expected. That already tells a lot about our shared situation. We were in the middle towards the end of the quarter, where everything is at its peak and soul-sucking. The last thing we want to do is respond to another email that reminded us about the bad year that is dragging on. 

However, I finally got a couple of responses. Here’s the breakdown. 

The isolation makes us dead inside. There’s no other option but to adapt. 

Online learning is no joke. I have experienced it myself for three quarters straight and still feel like a big part of me turns to a zombie at the end of the day, every day. Same with Thang, a second-year Associate of Business (AB-DTA) student from Vietnam, who misses the opportunity to interact with the real world. He commented “I cannot meet my friends at the campus and I lost contact with almost all of them. Due to circumstances, I cannot meet my friends face-to-face, which I really preferred. Sometimes I experience the feeling of loneliness and being left out as I’m staying home for too long.” 

Even though Thang stays connected with his friends on Reddit and Discord, it sometimes turns out to be too much online socializing. Therefore, he prioritizes his self-care routine much more to maintain his mental health. He likes to read books, watch movies, cook small meals, practice photography, and explore the city. 

This lack of real-world experience also hurts Lolita, another Vietnamese student at Seattle Central College. “It changed my entire time schedule. All I know is waking up at 5 minutes before the Zoom meeting, I don’t even need to brush my teeth or change my clothes because I didn’t show my face anyways’,’ she described. Lolita is a second-year student majoring in Computer Science , pursuing an Associate of Science degree. Ever since the school started remote operation, she has had to move to live with her relatives in Virginia to cut down rental and living expenses. 

“I’m tired, exhausted and unmotivated”, she expressed. 

“Did you know what sucks about online learning? It’s not because of the work, it’s because of the routine. I’m scared of a feeling when I wake up and realize that today is Monday:) Hell yeah, I know that the chunk of deadlines are waiting for me again.” Living on the East Coast, she always has to be more aware of time differences while taking online classes on the West Coast. This adds even more complexities on top of the existing ones, but clearly, she is still on top of it.

All mess aside, gratitude is highlighted somewhere in between.

It’s hard to see things on the bright side when everywhere you look is dark and endless. But we push ourselves and one another forward so that we can live on. Therefore, family is who Thang is most grateful for during the past year. He said “They have motivated me to try my very best through these tough times and focus on what is needed.” Another realization he has is that the pandemic makes him sympathize with those facing more difficulties. “It also gives me the motivation to continue studying and try my absolute best when times are difficult for me.” 

We’re still filled with hope.

Although it’s hard to tell when we’ll get vaccinated, our future in this land seems a bit brighter under the new government. “I believe that the new government will put less pressure on international students and they will be more aware of our voices, thus supporting us in a more efficient way.”, said Thang. As he wants to become a lawyer by transferring to a university and completing grad school, he hopes to get any opportunities that would support his dream. OPT (Optional Practical Training), for instance, is one that he mentioned. He also thinks that we will have less worry about changes  in the visa regulations. 

At the end of the conversation, I asked Thang if there is any area he needs the most help with, he responded “After a year of living through the pandemic, I have adapted to the situation and solved most of my needs, I hope that we are able to get through this together and will reach out to help each other.” 

It’s no doubt how resilient we have been throughout a year of COVID-19. We will continue to grow and fight regardless of the uncertainties. We are praying that the vaccines will be available to us soon because the real-world, in-person experience is the main reason we came here to the US. Meanwhile, no matter how strong we are, all we ask is to never lose the support we have earned and deserve. Both international and local students have been tightly dependent on one another for community and support; we have helped each other for so long, and none of us would survive otherwise.

Gift is a Programming AAS-T student and a Web Manager at the Seattle Collegian. She covers the column, Give me a break!, as she believes that everyone needs a break once in a while during this stressful time. She enjoys improving the Collegian website as much as writing, baking, making oat milk, and listening to podcasts.

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