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Despite hardships, IU international students adjust to new realities


When IU went online for the semester, international students had to quickly decide if and how to go home.

IU freshman Veer Singh soon booked his flight back home to Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh in India after the announcement.

“I had to make sure I had a seat on the flight back home,” Singh said. “And at the same time, India was planning restrictions on travels from abroad.”

Singh arrived home on March 17. Five days later, India banned all inbound and outbound international flights. The travel ban is ongoing and there is a nationwide lockdown. Roads are empty and people are not allowed to leave home unless they are an essential worker. 

Singh said the pandemic gives people the opportunity to learn new things, exercise or read a book.

Although in a completely different time zone from Bloomington, Singh said he doesn’t have to wake up at crazy times for his online classes. His professors uploads recordings of lectures on Canvas, so he can watch them any time. 

“I would still like in-person classes better because they are more interactive,” he said.

IU freshman Urawee Samanworakit’s trip back home to Bangkok, Thailand, took three flights and two layovers. On the thirteen-hour flight with a friend from Chicago to Tokyo, she said she was frightened that she might catch the coronavirus.

Samanworakit said she feels happy to be home but has had trouble getting work done.

“When you’re pushed into a schedule, you’re more productive,” Samanworakit said. “But when I don’t have a schedule, nothing’s working out.”

Her parents continue to work, and so does her sister, who lives in downtown Bangkok. Samanworakit said she feels like everyone who is working right now is risking their lives. 

“I just want to say thank you,” she said. “Because they don’t have a choice.”

IU freshman Amy Zhang decided to stay in Bloomington instead of going home to the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in China. One of the reasons was that she would be able to complete the rest of her semester in the same time zone as domestic students, but she also wanted to avoid the strict quarantining she would face if she traveled back.

"I would have to fly to Guangzhou. Once I touch down, it’s fourteen days of quarantine,” she said. “Then I will fly back home to Inner Mongolia and it’s another fourteen days, as I flew back from Guangzhou. For a whole month, I’ll have nothing.”

Now, Zhang and her boyfriend, IU freshman Mikhail Khvan, are staying at a subleased apartment at The Monroe. Although they feel content at their new home, they said the process of moving out of the residence hall was challenging. They had to move everything to the new apartment and couldn’t find help.

“That was a pretty dark period of time,” Zhang said. “Not even a friend would be willing to come out to help you. Not even if you pay them. I asked a lot of people, but none of them were willing. At the last minute, Zhang found a friend who offered to drive from Columbus, Indiana, to help.

The two said some of the most challenging experiences they’ve had come down to being Asian during the pandemic. At one point, Zhang and Khvan said they were refused service by an Uber driver because of their ethnicity. 

“I was upset,” he said. “Like, I mean, we are Asians – and so what?”

But life has begun to resemble some normalcy for Zhang and Khvan. They go outdoors only three times a week, one of which is for groceries. They cook their own meals. Khvan sometimes plays online billiards with friends.

“Chill,” Zhang said. “Calm down. Keep up with your routine. Keep doing classes. Life has to continue.” 

The interview with Amy Zhang is translated from Chinese.

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