Wednesday, September 30, 2020

A look into an international student's experience at MSU

September 1, 2020

“Dear Dream, 

You’re finally happening!” 

That was the first thought in my mind when my father told me that I had been accepted to Michigan State University. My life-long desire of wanting to go to the United States was finally coming true. It was a proud moment for my family and me.

I took to my social media and posted the exact same quote to my feed as I was boarding for my flight from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to East Lansing, Michigan. I was all by myself, flying to a new country. My parents could only afford the airfare for one person, so I had to move to the U.S. alone. 

For a teenage girl who’s never been to another city without her family, relocating to a whole new land was just as exciting as it was scary. I’d never been to this side of the sea — never stepped a foot in this continent before — and when I did three years ago, it was a surreal moment. One that I still remember clearly. 

Giddy with excitement almost to the point I could throw up, yet maintaining a steady face. Scared to my bones, yet trusting of the strangers around me because I immediately felt I could belong here — even for a short while. No matter how hard it was moving away from my family, I looked forward to finally being independent and following my “American Dream.” 

I was excited to live on MSU’s beautiful campus and learn new things. The multi-cultural environment and the huge diversity of international students were some of the major deciding factors for me. That, as well as the fact that I’ve never seen snow before in real life. Coming from a tropical desert to one of the coldest regions in the U.S. was definitely not a fun transition, but it was worth it. 

Now as I step into my senior year, all I can think about is how much I’m not ready to leave my Spartan family behind yet. I didn’t even realize it, but somewhere during my time living on campus, East Lansing became more of a home to me than my actual home. Every summer that I went back to visit my family, I’d mutter to myself, “this is how Harry Potter felt leaving Hogwarts for the breaks.”

In a way, this university has been my very own magical boarding school. I’ve made some of the best and most beautiful memories of my life here, gained friends that I know I’ll grow old with and most importantly, became a Spartan, which has given me the solidarity I was longing for.

Not many international students choose the major that I came here to study. Thus, there have been more times than not when I was the only international student — or even the only woman of color — in my classes. As much as I’m thrilled to share my learning environment with students who are different from me, there’s always a little fear in the back of my mind that we might struggle relating to each other and that could affect my experience here.

But I quickly realized that my perspectives not only matter to my professors but are also very much valued by my peers. The diversity I bring with me to the classroom has never made me feel out of place but rather solidified my individuality. My fears and nerves have long been vanquished since.

It hasn’t been an entirely smooth and happy journey though. From the culture shock to debunking stereotypes of being a Brown woman while being an international journalism student, these past three years could only be described as an emotional rollercoaster. 

The fact that I came here shortly after the 2016 elections certainly didn’t help my multi-layered identity. Neither did the Larry Nassar scandal that shattered MSU's reputation during my very first semester, the same semester the Las Vegas shooting tragedy occurred. Throughout these hardships, my parents got extremely worried. My mother asked me to come home on multiple occasions, worrying about my safety. Needless to say, things have only got more heated since then to magnify her distress. 

But what kept me strong and fearless was the support of my fellow Spartans. As we all know, life is not always easy. But what makes bouncing back easier is when we have someone to lean on. Over the years, my professors and friends have acted as my crutch to — at times — my life support. I can confidently say I wouldn’t be half the woman I am today had I not been given a chance to form these cherished bonds. 

From the exam stresses to mental breakdowns and extreme crisis, my MSU family has not only been there for me but has helped me, protected me and encouraged me to stay strong through and through. Pandemic or not, they have given me strength during every step I took.

Recently, for instance, the ICE regulations were updated where any student taking online classes would be forced to return to their home country for the semester or until the administration deems it safe to return. The added layer of that issue was facing the risk of my student visa being terminated if I were to reside outside of the U.S. for more than five months.

This was a true testament to what it meant for me to be a Spartan. I was terrified I would be forced to leave when I had come this close to attaining my dream of graduating from an American university. I remember my coworkers at The State News and my classmates reaching out to me. They kept telling me to stay strong, asking me if they could help me in any way. The faculty were signing multiple petitions in the support of the international community. 

It was through sheer optimism of my peers that I stayed sane until the news came that MSU — along with over 200 other universities and 17 states had filed an amicus brief in support of Havard and MIT’s lawsuit against the Trump administration. A week later, the policy was rescinded and I felt like I could breathe.

But it wasn’t so much the legal aspects as much as the emotional support that helped me get through this rough spot. Over the years, as a student and a journalist, I’ve been fascinated to see how quickly the Spartan community all over the nation unites to stand together if even a single student or worker is in need. Or if the world needs them.

So, to my fellow international and domestic Spartans, I would like to say thank you. For being fearless and loyal. For holding your peers and fellow professionals accountable. For courageously attempting to bridge the global differences and uniting us all no matter where we are. For fighting for what is right and for giving me a chance to dream and keep on dreaming. But most importantly for being who you are. 

As a senior, I look forward to spending my last year on this campus during these unprecedented times while having confidence in the fact that we will do right by each other. We will protect each other and help each other to get through this. After all, we are each other. We are Spartans. And Spartans will. 

This article is part of our Welcome Week print edition. Read the full issue here.

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