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Not an afterthought

| Friday, August 21, 2020

“Is the flight still on?”

Refresh page

“Wait… Yes.”

This is the interaction that played out on a loop every 10 minutes on the night of my flight back to the U.S. As a Notre Dame student who lives abroad, I have to fly over 6,000 miles back and forth every semester. On Aug. 4, shocked, disoriented, scared and gut-wrenchingly devastated, I had to make my way to the airport through the rubble and destruction left behind by the Beirut Explosion. My entire 19-hour trip was spent worrying about my father who had gone out to check on the damage to the family business a few miles away from the explosion. I spent 19 hours wearing a face shield and mask. The mask soaked up my tears, but nothing could stop the ringing in my ears or tear down the images that flashed behind my tired eyelids. I couldn’t sleep even during layovers where I called loved ones to make sure they were safe. Back home, my community is being torn apart by the inflation and corruption along with the dreadful economic, health and safety impositions of fighting a global pandemic. We are being drained of our assets and money, our jobs, our health, our homes, our sanity and our hope.

Despite everything, I was determined to make it back on campus. There was a lot at stake. Plane tickets cost over a thousand dollars, which with the inflation in Lebanon translated to over seven million Lebanese pounds (compared to a little under two million pre-inflation). I had to worry about paying my tuition and finding a job to cover my living costs. My parents were worried about my health and safety. And I had to carry the immense emotional burden that loomed over me as I left my home and family behind for another six months.

Wait a second… Right now you can add to that very concise list the fear of being stranded if the University shifts back to remote online learning. For many here and across the U.S., this shift would be inconvenient but actually quite easy. You pack up your bags, drive a few hours and then keep learning in a safe environment you call home.

But, for the more than one million international students in the U.S. — 1,416 of whom attend Notre Dame remote learning is a serious burden and growing worry. “International students’ biggest concerns are not with academics, not with remote instruction, but rather with the larger environment — health, safety and immigration,” said Igor Chirikov, the director of the Student Experience in the Research University Consortium and senior researcher at the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education.

If campus closes and remote learning resumes, these 1,416 classmates, colleagues, roommates and friends will be left scrambling to try to find new housing, far from home in a foreign country under lockdown. Others will be couch surfing in the family homes of their friends without knowing how long they will be welcome. Some will be lucky enough to fly home, but for others, going home is not an option. Going home would mean unstable internet connection and unreliable learning resources, unstable financial situations or unstable political environments. Others will worry about visas and immigration laws. They will fear that going back home will mean being unable to come back.

A substantial number of international students will watch their financial stability dwindle: Visa restrictions prevent us from working off-campus. Our financial security will be at risk, especially for those of us who had already been struggling to cobble together tuition fees. Not to mention that in several countries, including Lebanon, banking services cannot be accessed due to shutdowns or severe restrictions on money transfers.

The federal government has stepped in to help college students who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but in keeping with its America-first agenda, the Trump administration declared that international and undocumented students would be excluded from the roughly $6 billion in federal aid targeted to help students.

For us international students, studying in the U.S. is a golden ticket to improving our lives and getting further ahead in life. The value of that education surpasses any impositions and restrictions set on us. These 1,416 people among you have overcome so much to be here on campus. All we ask in return is to stop being an afterthought during this pandemic frenzy. I want reassurance for international students — myself included — if remote learning resumes. I do not want to be an afterthought. I urge the Notre Dame administration to communicate with us and set out some guidelines and possible next steps to take us out of the shadows of uncertainty and give us some sort of clarity and security. Aside from that, every single student must contribute to making this campus safe enough for in-person classes.

Notre Dame calls us “the global family.” Please take care of our community and make sure this second chance we got actually improves the situation. Please stay safe, and do your part. Your global family is counting on you now more than ever.

Krista Akiki is a sophomore at Notre Dame majoring in business analytics. Coming from Beirut, Lebanon, she always enjoys trying out new things and is an avid travel-lover. She hopes to take her readers on her journey as she navigates college life and stands up for the issues she believes in. She can be reached at [email protected] or @kristalourdesakiki via Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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