International students face unique uncertainties thanks to COVID-19

The Foundation for Young Australians’ Haley Zilberberg writes about how many international students are facing unqiue uncertainties thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some went back home and some stayed. Some are still working and others are not. Haley chats with her international student friends about the fall-out from COVID-19 and the impacts it’s having on their studies, work, finances and mental health.

I’m thankful to still be studying and working in Australia. I (virtually) sat down with some of my peers, fellow international students from India, China, and Indonesia, to find out how they’re handling the unique circumstances international students face when dealing with COVID-19.

HEADING BACK HOME IN THE MIDST OF A CRISIS

Saumya Poojary, 23, is an overseas student from Mumbai. She’s facing the uncertainty of not knowing when she will be able to come back to Australia, but she was fortunate enough to be able to take a flight back to India so she wouldn’t be away from her family during the crisis. She made the choice in order to take care of her own mental health, not knowing how long she would end up isolated and away from her loved ones.

“Saumya had 12 hours to pack up and move home. “About 80 percent of my belongings are still in Melbourne, but I don’t know when I’ll be able to come back. I’m paying for a home I can’t currently live in”, Saumya said about the stress of the situation.

Since heading back home, she’s felt increased anxiety about not knowing when she’ll be able to come back to Melbourne, and trying to study as if everything is normal in the middle of a crisis.

BUILDING PRESSURE

Cara Shrivastava, 23, is an overseas student from Goa who was lucky enough to be able to keep her job and a sense of normalcy as she continues to work and study from home. When the situation in Australia started to get worse, she was still being required to attend in-person classes.

For just over a week, Cara had to choose between taking measures to keep herself (and society as a whole) safe or risk missing marks for not showing up to class. Thankfully, all of her classes are online now, but the pressures of study are still there.

While the whole world moves online, she has to navigate the feeling that people expect more of her. Her workload for her job and uni haven’t changed, but people in her life think she has more free time because of the shift to working remotely. The pressure of being expected to do everything is a lot, and it’s something a lot of us are experiencing with the shift to an online world.

There’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the future for Cara. The job market isn’t very good, and with graduation right around the corner things aren’t ideal.

“It feels like a bad movie,” Cara said, “like we are just stuck in limbo waiting to see what happens.”

NOT EVERYONE HAS THE ABILITY TO SPEAK UP

Kath, a student from China, didn’t feel comfortable sharing her real name but had very real struggles she wanted to share. COVID-19 impacted her earlier than most because she has family who live in China. She had to cancel her plans to visit her family for Chinese New Year, and many of her friends are stuck in China where they are studying remotely at odd hours to keep up with Australian time.

COVID-19 caused her to lose her job in video creation, too. Filming videos simply wasn’t possible to do from home. Kath doesn’t know what her future will look like. She planned to get a graduate visa and work after completing her degree, but worries about how the job market will be in Australia once she’s graduated.

I spoke with other students who also didn’t feel safe to tell their stories, but have faced situations that we all need to know about. Some of my peers are navigating long-distance relationships across countries with their partners stuck overseas. Some are struggling financially after losing jobs and worried the Australian government will see them as a liability.

Some don’t have suitable spaces to work and study from home, but have to anyway to survive. Some of them worry they’re paying the same cost of tuition for a level of education that isn’t the same as what they anticipated. Many are experiencing mental health issues because of the stress of uni, feeling truly isolated without support systems here in Australia, financial stress, and knowing they aren’t able to see their families for a very long time.

WE ALL HAVE A UNIQUE STORY

Some of us went back home and some of us stayed. Some of us are still working and others are not. Right now, I am a world away from my family in Florida with uncertainty about how things will play out. I can’t visit them and can’t do anything to help them even as things continue to get worse in the United States.

As issues related to COVID-19 became more prevalent in Australia, I lost enrollment in one of my classes when it was cancelled and had to enrol in another subject midway through the semester. I’ve had to deal with the uncertainty around my private health fund covering telehealth as they lagged behind Medicare.

“In July, I’m due to graduate and I know I won’t be able to have my family join to watch me walk across the stage. I probably won’t even be able to walk across the stage.

All of these things we are facing as international students are hard, but I’m happy that if I’m stuck anywhere on earth for the next few months that I get to be here in Australia, a place that feels like home.

Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities and currently works at Redkite, a childhood cancer charity.