International students put COVID-19 into global perspective

By Kallie Cox, News Editor

Edited 4/8 1:30 p.m.

Bisola Atinsola used to call her family about once a week, but since the COVID-19 pandemic  Atinsola said she is worried about her family in Nigeria and she tries to call them every day. 

“My fear basically is the fact that Nigeria does not have that advanced technology at the moment like the other countries have it, so chances of Nigeria containing it like the United States is a bit challenging,” Atinsola said.

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Nigeria is currently on lockdown and is under a shelter-in-place order like the U.S.

“My mom had to stop her business because she can’t go to the store, so her business is closed at the moment,” Atinsola said. “Economically that isn’t good for the family because they are going to have to make do with what they have.”

Bisola Atinsola is a graduate student from Nigeria studying social work at SIU. Atinsola was set to graduate this semester and was planning to work in the health-care sector in the U.S. through the Optional Practical Training Program.

The program is an option for students who have studied in the U.S. for over a year and it allows 90 days of unemployment over the full 12 month authorization.

COVID-19 has left International students living in limbo and unsure of what will happen regarding their visas, scholarships and work programs.

“I really don’t know how the outcome will affect OPT,” Atinsola said.  At the moment [students] graduating in May would not have an idea of what to really expect because organizations have stopped working, so many people are working at home, recruitment has dropped so chances of being employed as an international student are quite slim for people.”

Atinsola said she doesn’t know whether an extension of OPT or a grace period will be offered because of the effect of the pandemic. She said she is thinking this through and is unsure of how this will affect her after graduation.

Ayush Giri, a graduate student from Nepal studying finance, said this is a confusing time for international students and he is constantly wondering whether he should stay in the U.S. or try to return home.

If an international student leaves the U.S. for more than five months, they have to reapply for their nonimmigrant student status and pay the I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System Fee again, which is approximately $350.

Giri works at the Center for International Education and said the Department of Homeland Security has not been communicating with international students and they have been left to figure it out on their own.

“It would be easier if DHS kind of has this guideline on how to maintain my status through this period, like what would be the requirement for me to stay here and how many classes I need to take,” Giri said. “Maybe they could make some law changing the requirements from six credit hours to three credit hours. Something like that they could try and help us.”

Giri said he is concerned about how his summer semester and GA work is going to be affected.

Giri said in addition to worrying about their home countries, students are insecure about their future in the U.S.

“How their status is going to be affected, or whether they can register for courses next semester or not, how SIU is going to suffer from this and how like the macro and micro economy is going to be affected by this,” Giri said. “I think they are really concerned about that and they are also concerned about how the Department of Homeland Security is going to handle the situation or if they’ll have any grace period for like say OPT or anything like that if they’re seeking such opportunities.”

Bushra Elsnousi is a graduate student from Sudan who is pursuing his master’s degree in civil engineering.

Elsounsi said he is worried about how the pandemic will affect his family and Sudan.

“I have to emphasize that unfortunately people in Sudan do not go by very well with safety protocols,” Elsounsi said. “They’re not that cautious. There’s social distancing but that would be problematic for people there. So I’m a little worried, to be honest with you.”

Elsounsi said currently Sudan is not seeing massive numbers of coronavirus cases but that the government has instituted a strict curfew from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Elsounsi said it is difficult for most people in Sudan to work remotely so he can’t see a total lockdown happening.

“Most people in Sudan get their daily check day to day, survival on a day-to-day basis,” Elsounsi said. “So many people actually have to go out every day to work a simple job and they bring whatever they could to the table that day.”

 Elsounsi said because of Sudan’s climate he is hopeful that the virus won’t be able to survive, and that he is worried about how his country will handle social distancing. 

“People in Sudan are really sociable, they eat together, they drink tea together, they hang out together,” Elsounsi said.

Giri said he is worried about his family but they are more worried about him.

Andrew Carver, executive director of International Affairs at the Center for International Education, said the center has been monitoring COVID-19 and trying to help students since January.

“Our international students are quite a resourceful and resilient group of individuals,” Carver said. “What I have heard most from international students is that they are concerned for their families back home.”

Carver said the SIU Center for International Education staff have been responsive to the needs of students and have offered workshops for students to help maintain their status and minimum work requirements.

“We are very pleased that the federal government has recognized the need for flexibility since international students now don’t have the option for face-to-face instruction,” Carver said.

Carver said the center delivered 45 emergency food bags to international students during the first emergency food bag event SIU hosted.

“The Center for International Education will continue to work closely with the Saluki Food Pantry and deliver food to international students who do not have their own transportation to the Student Center,” Carver said.  

Carver said the center also plans to continue their international coffee hour on Zoom as a way for students to connect during quarantine. It will be held each week at 3 p.m. Friday.

News Editor Kallie Cox can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @KallieECox.

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