Wednesday, August 5, 2020

GUEST COLUMN: What’s on international students' minds?

July 7, 2020
<p>A student walks through the Eppley Center after an email is released on March 11 notifying students that classes have been canceled due to growing concerns of COVID-19. </p>

A student walks through the Eppley Center after an email is released on March 11 notifying students that classes have been canceled due to growing concerns of COVID-19.

Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

By: Tawan Chittawan

Food marketing management/agribusiness management Michigan State University, Class of 2022

International Students Association President

Over the past few weeks, it would be an understatement that the events in the United States have unsettled the international student community. Worsened by its poor handling of COVID-19 pandemic, its political unrest, and now the updated guidance for F-1 and M-1 students, I share the concerns of many other international students who are concerned, frustrated and exhausted. Like many others, I even wonder if I had made the wrong decision of choosing the U.S. in the first place.

Just a few months ago, I was elected as the president of the International Students Association (ISA) to lead and represent international student interests within the Spartan community. This has been the most challenging year yet, an extraordinary period that I see as only deteriorating further. Personally, I think this might be the worst time to study in the U.S.

Are you coming to the U.S. this fall?

Recently, I have been pestered with this question, from my relatives, my friends or even from random people. 

For me, my current thinking is undergirded by two issues — health and personal safety. The recent report of the superspreader that led to more than 150 cases at Harper's Restaurant and Brewpub in East Lansing, Michigan, has deeply disturbed me as someone planning on coming back this fall. Racial discrimination and injustice toward minorities resulting in massive protests all over the country and President Donald Trump’s ill-advised rhetoric on the “coronavirus” has made me afraid for my life. It has left me wondering, for those of us who have decided to pay a premium to come and study in the United States, is it still worth it to even pursue our study here anymore?

If the school or the government is asking us to come back to school for fall, they must prove to us that, under these extraordinary circumstances, we will be safe from the potential of COVID-19 being spread on campus and ensuring that discrimination and racial bias are eliminated. Until that happens, I cannot recommend that any international student return to study at MSU for fall semester.

The updated SEVP guideline for international students has forced us to move back to campus. While there might be some logic to this decision, there are many detrimental impacts on the international student community. What if two months into the semester, the coronavirus spread on campus leading to online classes again? Under these new guidelines, if the school is planning to go online, international students cannot stay in the United States; they have 10 days to leave or risk getting deported. There are still many countries that are banning entry and return of their citizens and will continue to do so. They need to get out of the U.S. but are not allowed to go back to their home country. Where will these students go? This new guidance is unfair and inconsiderate for international students who are already in the U.S. However, this should come to no surprise if you have been following recent announcements from the United States government.

I would like to express my appreciation to everyone at the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS) as well as administrators and other organizations for being there for international students. In one of President Samuel L. Stanley Jr.'s letters to the community, he stressed the importance of having international students in this diverse community. However, I still think that MSU can do more for international students who are paying out of state, contributing to the school's revenues and are here legally. It’s time to step up their game and provide more commitment for international students.

For all international students reading this, please reach out to ISA or me personally. I want to hear from you and better understand your problems and concerns. We are here to help you go through this difficult time. If you have any questions concerning your visa status, please reach out to the OISS. They should have guidance ready soon to help answer your concerns in this difficult time.

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