For international students, the process of "going home" is often a difficult and expensive one, which means they make Michigan State University their home.
When students packed up, leaving an “eerie” MSU campus following the Feb. 13 mass shooting, international students had no choice but to stay put on campus. Many felt unsafe, scared and alone, without their families, in a wave of uncertainty.
“Dorms are our home,” supply chain management sophomore Devangi Deoras said. “That’s where we live and there is no other place that we call home in this country.”
Deoras, a resident assistant in McDonell Hall, was sheltered-in-place in her room with a few of her friends, two of which were also intercultural aids, Manasvi Jain and Rainy Jain. All three are international students from India.
While Deoras sheltered-in-place, she couldn’t contact her parents because of time zone differences.
“I think it’s a fact that as an international student, you don't have family here to lean on," Deoras said. "They [Deoras' parents] didn't even hear about the situation until it was almost over. So I didn't have my family to rely on, … I texted them about what had happened, but obviously they were sleeping and couldn't respond to my messages. I felt very alone in that moment in terms of not having any family support.”
Following the near week-long cancellation of classes, Deoras and Manasvi were housed by MSU student and Virginia-native Saahiti Kurella, while Rainy stayed in a discounted room at a Marriott hotel in the Lansing-area with other international students.
“I went inside my room after the whole thing was over," Deoras said. "I got flashbacks of whatever had happened, and that space just doesn't feel the same. ... I personally don't know what I'm going to feel like when I enter that space again. I have thought about it, but it's going to be hard to go back to my room again and on campus.”
Deoras, Manasvi and Rainy began looking at temporary rental homes after shelter-in-place was lifted.
“We connected on the fact that we don't have any family," Deoras said. "Our family will never probably understand what we went through because the concept of gun violence is so new to them."
Manasvi said that she would rather have gone home. She said she would like to hug her parents.
“Because the feeling of hugging your parents after all of this has happened, ... I saw some people doing that and I was like, I could not do that unless I'm back home in May,” she said.
Similarly, Rainy’s family wants her back home, but she can’t go back home unless a hybrid class-option is offered by the university or all her professors.
Rainy, an economics student who frequently has classes in Berkey Hall, said she would typically leave the hall at 8 p.m. The mass shooting began at 8:18 p.m.
“As an international student, I felt like we needed a home and, for us, MSU was it. … These four hours totally changed our perspective about MSU like, we don't see it as a home anymore,” Rainy said.
Laura Santos, an international biochemistry and molecular biology freshman from Brazil, was housed by her roommate, digital storytelling sophomore Faith Cabalum, after the shooting.
“When everything kind-of went down, we didn't really know what to do," Cabalum said. "Obviously, it was a really confusing time. ... For her [Santos], it was kind of like, she had no choice in terms of going home and in such a sudden manner."
Santos and Cabalum live in Wonders Hall and were in a Case Hall study lounge when the mass shooting occurred.
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“If it wasn't for her [Cabalum], I would have probably just stayed there because I was never trained for that,” Santos said.
Santos said that although her mom was on the phone with her while she was sheltering-in-place, her mom didn’t have access to information like the police scanner, and news in Brazil would often misinterpret what went on.
“Every time that I call my mom and my grandma they're super scared. And they've been texting me and calling me nonstop and asking me not to go out and not do anything,” Santos said. “I think it's worse for them. And that's the part that hurts the most, not being there and not being able to show that I'm okay, like truly in-person.”
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