Annenberg Radio

International students face added difficulties navigating pandemic

Students have faced complications with their visas, long plane rides, and risks of exposing older families. Some haven’t been home in months.

Misha Hassan is a junior at USC from Pakistan. Like everyone, she’s faced difficulties -- and felt isolation -- because of the pandemic. But hours and hours from home with difficulty traveling, her experience has been, in many ways, even more isolating: she hasn’t been home in months.

Hassan:

“This is definitely the longest I’ve ever been away from home. it feels surreal almost. I definitely miss home a lot, but circumstances are such where, what can you do?”

And because of COVID travel restrictions, she doesn’t know when she will be home next.

Hassan:

“I honestly have no idea… I mean right now I’m obviously not going. It just makes sense to take classes from here and not in some crazy time zone.”

Aryan Ahuja is a sophomore at USC from New Delhi. concerned about long plane rides, he is unsure when he will next go home.

Ahuja:

“I live in a joint family back home, with like 20 people and I live with grandparents and old people 70 and over 75. so it’s risky to go back home because I’m exposing myself here, in the airport, and then on the plane.”

Misha also spent winter break alone in her apartment, away from her family at a time when most are at home celebrating.

Hassan:

“I was on my own in la, just in my apartment, because my roommate had gone back as well to her hometown, and i was just completely on my own.”

“Winter break was really hard, especially when everyone’s going home and you’re not going home -- that’s definitely a hard part. I was on my own in la, just in my apartment, because my roommate had gone back as well.”

This sense of isolation and homesickness have been common among international students.

Phang:

“I have many students who come to me, who haven’t been home in a while. even a couple who are debating whether they should go home now or stay, because they’re feeling so much isolation.”

That is Dr. Alice Phang, a clinical assistant professor and psychologist at USC, who does clinical therapy and specifically helps international student.

Phang:

“The decision to not go home comes from a wide range of social and societal problems.”

“the ambivalence comes from, yes i can go, but a lot of the countries have mandated quarantines. they’re not sure if they can really do that. and then concerns about whether they would be able to come. if there’s going to be changes with the visas, with all of that.

Aryan is one of those students unsure about how traveling back and forth would affect his visa.

Ahuja:

“The pandemic has changed many rules for my visa. so it’s kind of complicated to go back, through the visa process and to come back. so I’m not sure how i will go back and come back but I need to figure it out.”

Phang offered advice to international students who might be struggling with loneliness or homesickness.

Phang:

“A lot of our students wait for friends to reach out to them. but, my advice is, this is not the time to wait. this is the time to be proactive, and reach out yourself and take initiative.”

But for Misha, being away from home has given her new ways to cope.

Hassan:

“I was learning how to live on my own. so while it sounds really scary, it was also a learning experience as well… being on your own is okay, you can be self-sufficient, be with yourself and spend time with yourself.”

But all of that still can’t replace home. She still imagines being home with her family, with food she loves and the streets she knows.

Hassan:

“The food, my mom’s food, I miss it so much. I just want to spend time with my mom, that’s all I want to do. just driving down roads that I haven’t been to in such a long time, and just being in my city -- I miss that feeling.”

For many of us last holiday season, going back home was a risk we were willing to take. But for some, like Misha, going back has so much at stake. Unlike domestic travel during the pandemic, there is no guarantee there will be a return ticket.

For Annenberg media, I’m Emmett Fuchs.