From John Brown (not his real name), an international student enrolled in APU’s graduate marriage and family therapy program:
“I completely understand the necessity of shutting down the school to protect students’ and staffs’ safety and well-being. However, since the Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) program is heavily dependent on face-to-face interactions, our ability to share clinical cases and receive input has been close to none.
If I wasn’t at the finish line of the program, I would much rather take a leave of absence at this moment. Having to pay the usual amount of tuition for the experience received online is simply not worth it.
I have felt a mix of sadness and disappointment. Since day one, the MFT program has urged students to build strong relationships that allow us to support each other in the program. Classes for many of us are not just about the lectures. They’re more of a social gathering; a reason for us to put our busy lives aside. Not being able to see each other at school takes a big chunk of social interaction away from my life.
The changes I have had to adapt to are working from home, social distancing and quarantining. But I also had to consider the worst-case scenario when it comes to the potential impact that COVID-19 can have on immigration. As an international student, I took a proactive approach in reaching out to different people for advice and giving others a heads-up on what may be coming, which is essentially a back-up plan in the case that things fail.
While international students have carried their smiles around and continue to attend classes like other students, we always have to be mindful of our immigration status, and it is an invisible burden that our school has often overlooked.
For instance, there is a limit to the amount of online classes international students are allowed to take per semester, which may not affect domestic students, but can be problematic for a graduate student. This is just one of a number of factors that can put an international student’s status in jeopardy.
Amidst the chaos surrounding the coronavirus, going back home was an option for me. However, I was only a summer semester away (4 units) from graduating. I did not want to call it quits at the finish line. For me, choosing to stay is a gamble with high risks that if I’m lucky, will reap a high reward. It is ultimately better for my professional long-term goal, but many adjustments need to be made to make it worth it.
As I tried to decide whether or not to go home, many thoughts ran through my mind such as my family’s safety, my financial sustainability, and so on. This is because under most circumstances, international students in the U.S. are only allowed to work on campus, which there is basically zero opportunity for now that school is closed. Would I be able to return to the U.S.? If not, all my effort will go down the drain. If I leave, will I still be eligible for an OPT?”
Editor’s note: An OPT is a post-graduate government program that allows international students to work in the U.S. for a year after they complete their degree. It is offered to students once at the undergraduate level and once at the graduate level, and is not viable if a student’s visa expires shortly after their graduation and they have returned to their country of residence.
In my opinion, as a graduate student, international student services will always be my go-to student resource that is available to me. To be completely honest, other student services have been pretty much non-existent aside from a weekly email (sorry for being judgy and ruthless, but it’s the truth.)
For graduate students, communication with the university has never been effective. We have always been one step-behind, and it even goes back to the financial deficit APU was in last year. Because I completed my undergrad degree at APU, I have stayed in the loop as to what goes on around campus. But that’s not the case for graduate students who often find out only weeks later that the university has made some changes, leaving them in shock. I even feel bad for faculty members at the graduate level because they can be just as left out as students, especially because most decisions are usually made exclusively by the higher ups (such as the board of supervisors, etc.).
I pretty much have to depend on myself at all times. What I find helpful is to establish a well-balanced schedule and routine, making sure that each aspect of my life (ex. school, internship, physical, and mental well-being) are still being taken care of. I continuously remind myself that life is not cancelled; another breath is another chance for me to grow.