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“I’m scared I can’t come back”: Why Int’l Students are Choosing to Stay Even After Lockdown

Jensen Ooi

Fri Jul 24 2020

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As we enter the 2nd week of “Quarantine 2.0” and the excessive rising of cases in Victoria, returning to a time where we could roam about freely seems like a faraway dream. To the many international students that remain here, the constant pushback of physical classes then becomes a seemingly bad dream that never ends.

When the state first went under lockdown, the first semesters of all universities transitioned to online teaching formats. It was an unprecedented decision that left much to be desired given the experience of in-person learning was lost and replaced with classes that were not ideal for many international students.

Despite how upset I was, I couldn’t blame universities for their response. It was a global pandemic nobody saw coming and students had to come to terms with the fact that their 2020 university experience will largely be confined to impersonal Zoom conference calls.

Which brings us to the question, “So why should I stay in Melbourne if I’m going to have classes online anyway?” 

Like many others, I’ve returned to my home country to undergo my final Masters semester. Paying over $1000 in rent for my tiny city apartment just for me to be cooped up at home with little-to-no social interaction, I just couldn’t see the point in staying. Sure, the freedom I had in Melbourne without parental interference was unparalleled, but government restrictions made me realise that I’d take being at home with family any day over having the liberty to eat cereal for dinner 3 nights in a row. 

It’s not how I had hoped to spend my last 3 months of university education but the decision made to save on expenses and be with my family again was easy to make, despite my wishes to stay in Melbourne for the long run. I’d imagine the international students that fled the country at the first sign of lockdown felt the same, which makes me wonder. What are the reasons that drive those who choose to stay in Victoria, even when the prospect of a Stage 4 lockdown looms on the horizon? 

A first-year Federation University student claimed that returning to Melbourne would be difficult if they had left, while another second-year Deakin student (both wished to remain anonymous) asserted that “the government will not let any internationals back any time soon so I will stay and keep my spot.” Though there hasn’t been concrete proof to back their claims, their fears are justified. As international travel restrictions seem to have no end in sight, students that are lucky enough to still remain in Australia can still make do with what they have. 

Of course, there were other responses from my friends such as: “my lease ends in another half a year,” which I understand. You wouldn’t want to pay $1000 monthly rent for a glorified storeroom. And further reasons such as being with their partners, and work commitments. Not all students see Australia as a short-term destination for us to extract knowledge from- there are some that have chosen to plant their roots over time, hoping for a future in a foreign country that they hope to call home. 

Thus, when faced with PM Scott Morrison’s comments that ‘encouraged’ international students to “go home” in addition to the racially-targeted assault incidents, it brings about feelings of alienation that’s only been made worse through sustained isolation. But continues to drive students to stay when there are elements that might make them feel unwanted?

“Online classes aren’t enough to convince me to leave.”

Natasha Garcia, a Masters student at Monash University, told me that she came to Melbourne looking for opportunities. Be it a job, internship, or even volunteering openings. 

“I came to search for chances to improve my life in any way possible. Even in quarantine, I have more chances to improve here than I do back in my home country.”

She echoed a sentiment that can be understood by all international students, though not voiced by many. No matter the circumstances of how we got into Australian universities, being in a foreign country presents opportunities that our home countries might not be able to provide. Who can blame some of us who want to stay behind to make the best of what we can, in a place that gives the chance to change our lives?

Meld strongly advises international students to practice social distancing, abide by their city’s lockdown rules, and to wear a mask outdoors during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

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