By Quincy Guinadi
I have never resonated with a gif so much more than this one:
When the US began having a huge increase in COVID19 cases and states began to instate stay-at-home orders, a collective grief and loss of our livelihood was immediately felt. I remember noticing an influx of podcasts and articles on collective grief and naming the loss of a way of existence. I also noticed an increase of folks on my facebook wall mourning the loss of comfort, stability, and control over their future. I resonated with how they felt, but this wasn’t a new feeling. I had a déjà vu moment and realized that as an international student, this was not the first time I experienced the loss of a way of existence.
I grieved for my newly found community when I struggled to find a company to sponsor my work visa and had to go back home. I grieved for my safety and future when I returned to the United States for my Master’s program the year Trump got elected. I grieved for the ability to feel welcomed and safe as racial tensions grew in the United States. I grieved for any sense of stability and the freedom to visit my friends and family back at home when the executive order for an immigration halt recently took place.
Grieving for a way of life is not new to international students.
International students are often kept on their toes from having to constantly keep up-to-date about immigration and visa changes. These changes largely impact our financial, career, and educational future. Yet, we have zero voting abilities or control over the decisions made that would change our course in life. When I got furloughed from my on-campus job, I went into a frenzy. How was I going to afford groceries? How was I going to afford rent? Do I burden my family by asking them for money? Do I qualify for unemployment as an alien? In my moment of desperation, I drafted an email to my school’s president begging him to consider the work restrictions international students have and to provide some sort of financial aid. My desperation paid off and my school decided to continue to provide international student workers with financial aid. In that moment, I grieved for a sense of stability.
Back to that gif — I often feel that as an international student, I am not allowed to complain about my grief and losses. I often feel that I am expected to be compliant and readily agree to any changes made. Comments like “well you chose to come here for an education” or “If you don’t like it, then go home” invalidates my pain.
In times when I feel out of control, I like to think “what would I tell a client?” Most of the time, my go-to advice would be to (1) acknowledge the grief and pain you’re experiencing, (2) go to safe spaces and people that you know can support and respect your feelings, and (3) practice self-compassion and gratitude despite the hardships.
If you are an international student reading this, know that you are never alone and you are allowed to have feelings! I always turn to my Students of Color Support Group in my school as a safe space to express my grief and pain. Reaching out to other international students within your program, school, or state are helpful too! If you are an APA member, the international section of Division 17 recently started hosting zoom check-ins for international students. Also feel me to reach out to me!
If you are a local student reading this, I encourage you to check in on your international friends. If you have the capacity to hold a safe space for them, offer it to them.