Being an International Student During the Pandemic

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Being an International Student During the Pandemic

By Zeynep Yilmaz,

The first half of 2020 has been hectic for many countries because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wuhan, China had its first case in January 2020 and everything started going downhill. However, no one would have thought that the same thing would happen to the U.S. When the U.S. first diagnosed someone with coronavirus in March 2020, a panic started to spread within society. Videos of people shopping like crazy to stock food, masks, hand sanitizers and clorox wipes spread around as fast as the virus on social media.

“I thought I could still stay to finish my first year, then go back when summer started.” said Yen Nguyen, a Vietnamese student studying at Bryn Mawr College who had to decide whether or not she should return back to her country during the initial stages of the outbreak. After her school announced to switch to remote learning until it’s safe to continue in-person classes, all the domestic students started leaving the campus. The only ones who were left on campus, international students, had to decide whether they should go back to their home country, or  stay in the U.S. during that uncertain situation. 

Staying on campus might have been the safest option, however, during that time other countries started closing their border for travellers from the States. So, in that case these students were most likely going to accommodate their own housing in the U.S. for the rest of the summer. Also, their visa status didn’t allow them to work out of campus and hence cause financial hardships to their parents. On the other hand, the situation could’ve resolved in a month, and in that case they would have to attend classes asynchronously because of the time difference. Also, they would have to cancel their internship plans for the summer.

“My family was in Vietnam, so I constantly got updates from my mother about the situation – how schools were locked down and everyone was practicing social distancing.” Within a week after the school closure, Yen, along with all the other international students, had to decide whether or not they should leave the U.S. While she was getting updates about how Vietnam was handling the pandemic, the number of cases in the U.S. continued to rise exponentially. Yen’s grandmother was a former nurse and anticipated how bad the outbreak could be. “Every day, she talked to me and gave me a list of groceries and personal hygiene products to buy to protect myself. When the numbers hit about 2,000 cases in the U.S., I still hadn’t decided whether I should go back or not.” When Yen’s grandmother insisted that they are running out of time, she and her other Vietnamese friends booked their flight back to Vietnam. By the time they got back, some students were already infected and they all ended up spending the next two weeks in a quarantine facility. 

Yen finished off her freshman year and is currently continuing the first semester of  her sophomore year in Vietnam attending classes remotely. She is hoping to come back to the U.S. during the spring semester. When I asked the importance of the media and how it played a role in her decision she said that “people need to know where to look for the right information”. During that time period, she had a hard time getting reliable information from the media about what to expect and how to behave. She relied on information from her family members and friends who worked in the medical field. While the CDC and the U.S. media reported that masks aren’t necessary, she kept her mask on as much as possible per her grandmother’s advice.

Regarding the pandemic, misinformation in the media created widespread confusion and fear among people. WHO, the World Health Organization, stated that the pandemic was flamed with “a massive infodemic: an overabundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” WHO, also acknowledged that, on top of all the medical research done to combat the virus, the accessibility of accurate information to the general public through the media played a crucial role in this battle against coronavirus. Subsequently, WHO partnered with social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Tiktok, to stop the spread of false information and provide credible resources. Also, they have worked with influencers on Instagram and Youtube to raise awareness of the infodemic and spread the facts about the virus to their followers. 

The coronavirus pandemic taught all of us that instead of using the “fast” and “accessible” information we should do in depth research about the credibility of the information.  As from Yen Nguyen’s experience, sometimes decision making with a lot of uncertainties can be hard especially during a pandemic. However, a big part of making the right decision is looking for the accurate information that will lead you to a solution. WHO, eventually,  took precautions against misinformation but the infodemic reminded all of us that we shouldn’t trust everything that we see or read on the internet. For now, stay informed and stay safe.