This summer, most students at Hope were nervous about what this semester would look like. Students wondered if they would get to live on campus or go to in-person classes. All of this led to some stress for students, not to mention the faculty that made these plans. Add in flights, visas, customs and a two-week quarantine, and the stress can become overwhelming. International students provide different viewpoints on American culture, and with the year that it has been, their viewpoints are important now more than ever.
The Anchor sat down with Fara Shu Sean Ling (’23), an international student from Malaysia, who is a psychology and dance major at Hope. She spoke about the struggles of getting flights at the very last minute when quarantine first began and how she and other international students were told that they had to quarantine in Holland for two weeks before the start of this semester, and thus had to scramble for flights back to the U.S. Furthermore, many international students didn’t find out where they were quarantining until the last possible moment. Ling said, “I didn’t find out where I was staying for my quarantine until the day of my flight, or that Hope wasn’t providing meals for us. We had to give them a grocery list for the two weeks.”
Ling was assigned to stay in an apartment off-campus with another student, but said that many international students were assigned to spend their quarantine in Haworth Inn and Conference Center. Ling told the stories of a couple of these students whose glass shower screens shattered, one such incident resulting in a hospital trip. She also quipped that it felt like the international students were the guinea pigs for the test run of quarantine, and she “hope[s] that quarantine has improved after the results of our time in isolation.”
Over the summer, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tried to impose on the situation regarding international students. For many students this would have spelled disaster. Some students do not have access to tools necessary for academic success, like a wireless internet connection. Additionally, most of the countries that international students hail from have time differences that would mean they would be taking classes in the middle of night or extremely early in the morning. When I asked her thoughts on this, Ling said:
“Something linked to ICE and the larger theme of international students’ place in the US (it’s our temporary home really): the main argument against the July 6 SEVP legislation was ‘US institutions can’t afford to lose international students.’ This argument has a lot of merit, but it also disturbed me. What if we didn’t contribute to the U.S. economy as much? Would the legislation still have been overturned? Or could colleges and universities afford to lose us? What are international students worth to these institutions, actually? Are we primarily seen for the dollars we contribute to their balance sheets? What about students like me who earned scholarships—are we somehow less worth defending than our peers who pay the full amount?”
Although ICE’s new rules were repealed after multiple lawsuits, the whole situation made international students, like Ling, think about their role on campus, but also their role in the whole of the U.S. This attempt at barring international students showed many of them just how fragile their situation can become. Besides threatening where international students stand legally, the coronavirus pandemic has led to a very unfortunate turn in the ideological landscape of the U.S. As the virus originated in the Wuhan province of China, many have concluded that the whole pandemic must be the fault of Chinese people. This has translated into a new wave of anti-Asian sentiment spreading throughout the U.S. and other parts of the world. When asked if she was worried about the surge of racism against Asian Americans and Asian people, Ling answered, “Oh definitely. My friends and I talked about this, because I’m Asian, and definitely in the earlier stages there was a surge of anti-Asian things happening, especially with some in authority calling COVID-19 the ‘Chinese Virus.’” A surge of xenophobia in the midst of a pandemic is not new. According to Time Magazine, “HIV was blamed on Haitian Americans, the 1918 influenza pandemic on German Americans, the swine flu in 2009 on Mexican Americans.” President Donald Trump has even used the term “Chinese Virus,” mentioned above, as well as the derogatory term “kung flu.” Ling also said there have been moments where students she knows have felt less safe this year than last, even citing an incident where she, herself, was in a situation in which she did not feel safe.
The world watched as America exploded this summer over police brutality; international students watched too. And while many support the call for justice, some wonder about the dangers of the system they find themselves locked in. Ling commented,
“The main question is, ‘Can I afford to be political?’ We’ve already seen how volatile our legal status can be. If there was any trouble at the rally, we would be targets because most of us international students are from the same racial minorities that are in the U.S. I think a lot of international students empathize with the struggle of racial minorities in the U.S., like we understand what it is like for people to not understand you and ask you weird questions about where you’re from, what languages you speak, etc. Questions that make you really think about your identity and where you fit in as an international student to this larger framework as a student in the U.S.”
Ling explained further that the fight for racial equality in the U.S. has also spurred people in her home country to look for their own biases. America opened up a conversation about race, and this conversation has seemed to spread around the globe. Ling commented,“Even in Malaysia, people are talking about how anti-blackness is manifested in Malaysia; how are we also colorist and racist?”
Many students at Hope take classes that celebrate intersectionality, such as IDS 200: Encounter with Cultures. But for many international students, intersectionality is a fact of life, as they provide fresh perspectives on issues and conversations. Ling sums up this principle well, by saying, “International students have so much to share in conversations about diversity in race and religion—because of our lived experiences, we know America’s way of engaging with differences is not the only story that exists. We’ve lived the alternatives, both the better and the worse.”