MU's international students concerned about fall semester while MU makes changes

The Missouri International Student Council and MU International Student and Scholar Services explain what the fall semester looks like for the university's international student community.

International students at MU face the challenge of making the fall semester as normal as possible amidst the uncertainty that accompanies the COVID-19 pandemic.

In January, the International Student and Scholar Services office at MU began to communicate with the school’s international students regarding changes they may experience come August.

ISSS Director David Currey said in an email that as of Aug. 24, MU had 1,261 international students, 18.8% fewer than 2019. However, 36 of them are freshmen, which is a 16.1% increase from last year’s total of 31 freshmen.

Currey also said that the office communicates with international students and their families through mail messages, virtual ISSS updates and Town Hall sessions.

However, students faced some uncertainty over the summer as U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program announced that international students would not be able to enter the country if their courses were entirely online.

Maya Moreau, a junior psychology major at MU and vice president of the Missouri International Student Council, said in an email that MISC was “worried that members would have to fly back to the U.S. and then risk deportation … if Mizzou went back to online.”

In response to SEVP’s decision, MISC stated on their social media, “To international students affected by this news, we want to let you know that we are here for you, we feel for you, and we will stand by you. MISC will support any decision made by MU international students to keep themselves and the people around them safe.” Ainhoa Maqueda, a junior journalism major from Spain, said she faced uncertainty over the summer when deciding her fall plans. Her parents disagreed with each other about whether or not she should come to MU in the fall, and she had many doubts herself about her safety.

Maqueda was not the only international student facing concerns about coming to the U.S. for the fall semester. Mizuki Fujieda, a sophomore journalism major from Tokyo, Japan, said that he thought about staying home for the fall due to the risks involved in coming to MU. He also faced travel concerns. “On the day I left Japan… only five flights were available only to big cities,” he explained, saying that most flights had been cancelled.

Moreau said many international students feel like MU is looking out for them and their safety even if the university has to move completely online. She explained that MU’s International Center works with MISC at the beginning of each semester to best accommodate international students.

Maqueda, however, expressed disappointment in the International Center. “As an international student, I feel like the International Center should have been there for us more,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I had someone that was like, ‘hey, do you want to talk?’” She also said that many students had been frustrated with the International Center and their visa processes in the spring, as the students faced difficulties obtaining visas before being sent home.

Currey explained that this fall, workshops, advising and events are taking place on Zoom, but ISSS is still open for in-person document pick-up or drop-off services and can now electronically issue the F-1 visa certificates that students need. F-1 visas apply to non-immigrant foreign students that are in the U.S. to pursue an entire course of academic study in a school approved by the SEVP.

“MU International Student and Scholar Services has continued to provide its full range of support services to international students and scholars throughout the pandemic,” Currey said.

Many students still have underlying logistical concerns, including the accessibility of treatment for COVID-19 if they need it.

“Usually, the basic international student health insurance provided by the university is not the best at times … I know a couple of people that are scared of having to pay a lot of money for treatment if they do get really sick,” Moreau said.

International students are automatically enrolled in Aetna health insurance but can get a waiver if they do not live in Columbia or have a comparable insurance coverage program. With Aetna, a hospital emergency room visit would cost a $100 copayment, and the plan would cover 80% of the charge per visit. “Non-emergency services in a hospital emergency room facility” and “Non-urgent care in an urgent care facility (at a non-hospital freestanding facility)” are excluded from the Aetna insurance plan.

The international students in Columbia this fall are also worried about how traveling home will work. If campus shuts down again and students must fly home, they are unsure what kinds of travel restrictions may be put in place again. Fujieda explained that when his grandmother passed away three weeks ago, he was unable to go home because of concerns over travel and quarantining.

Many students also worry about finances. “For a lot of international students, they rely on their on-campus jobs for income, because they can’t have off-campus jobs; they have to work at Mizzou,” Moreau said.

Maqueda works at the Bookmark Cafe in MU’s Ellis Library, and Fujieda worked in Japan over the summer to try to make more money for tuition, though he could not start working until July due to the pandemic.

The coming months are a waiting game. Students overseas in their home countries do not know when they can return to campus. For now, they have to deal with Wi-Fi concerns and Zoom calls at hours when they would be asleep. The students already in Columbia are uncertain if they will be sent home or how to make the arrangements necessary for travel.

Fujieda also expressed concerns about discrimination against Asians as a result of the pandemic. He said that in March, he faced discrimination from a family in an Alabama Walmart who were clearly upset by his presence in the store, and that he felt “not comfortable” there after the experience.

Both Fujieda and Maqueda said they did not know what to expect upon coming to MU in the fall. They were both unsure about whether people in Columbia would be wearing masks and following guidelines like the people from their hometowns did.

Despite the uncertainties, Maqueda and Fujieda both came to campus. Maqueda said that she made the right decision, and that “so far, it hasn’t been as awful as I thought it was going to be.”

“MU International Student and Scholar Services is here to help our international community in many critical ways, not only through immigration advising and processing important documents, but to help students and scholars connect to the wide-range of resources and support services all across the MU campus and in our local community,” Currey said.

In the midst of all of this year’s changes, Moreau said that MISC also prioritizes students.

“We hope that we can do our part in making international students still feel like they’re recognized and appreciated even if it’s all online,” Moreau said.

Edited by Joy Mazur | jmazur@themaneater.com

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