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The Carletonian

Travel bans and a twelve-hour time difference: international students redefine ‘feeling at home’

Matin Yazi / The Carletonian

Every spring, room draw brings its fair share of drama. Students usually struggle with questions like, “who should I live with this year?” or “is my number good enough for that Burton single?” This year, many students were faced with the question of whether to come back at all. 

For most domestic students, there was a binary decision of whether to Zoom into class from home or their dorm. For international students, these decisions come with many more choices that bring complications. 

For most international students these complications are not simply logistical but often psychological. When being at Carleton itself is a study abroad, the idea of home gets complex. With the recent move by the Trump administration to revoke student visas, international students barely escaped deportation, and it became painfully clear that the place they have become accustomed to calling home will in fact never be truly theirs. 

Maanya Goenka ’22, who had to stay in India due to her state’s unique domestic lockdown, said she still wants to come back to Carleton. “I hate that for me, the choice to not come back isn’t even mine,” she said. While India has resumed commercial flights in limited capacity, Goenka can only wait for the domestic travel ban to lift while students from other parts of India have started going back to college. 

Goenka ultimately decided to give up and take the term online from India. Her first week of fall has proved to be challenging. “I am very glad that I went back [to India] for sure,” she said. “I loved spending time with my family and seeing them over summer, but taking classes and sitting through internship interviews at 3am is absolutely painful. There’s so much instability, because even though I am at least in the comforts of my home, my day starts past midnight.”

Often for international students, long cramped flights have become a part of life, but the distance becomes painfully clear when the option to cover it is taken away. Students whose countries continue to stay in lockdown could only interact with their families through video calls throughout the spring and summer. 

Mehdi Shahid ’22 said, “It was definitely very hard. I would see my friends on Instagram or something, back home and spending time with their families and I just didn’t get that.” Because he stayed at Carleton all summer and then continued his duties as an RA before New Student Week, Shahid said he “felt like spring term just never ended. Usually I would go home over long breaks and feel like I could really have a reset, but this time I just didn’t get to hit my reset button.” 

A continuation of work and school away from family has been the common struggle of many Carleton students who were left stranded in the US this year. Unlike Mehdi, however, Alison Hong ’22 had to move every few months in search of a place that fits her needs. “I chose to stay on campus when they moved spring online because that was simply the easiest and probably the only choice. I didn’t want to impose a lot of pressure on my parents, plus most of my friends are staying,” she said. 

Midway through the term, she had the option to move to Sacramento to live with some family friends. She said, “I felt pretty optimistic that at least I would be able to go back home in the summer and things will turn better in the fall.” She ended up staying in Sacramento for the whole summer. “I didn’t want to go back home partly because of the notoriously long and expensive flight and partly because of the time difference,” Hong said. Eventually, she moved to Washington, D.C. with a fellow Carl to take fall classes. 

Being international students also often complicates the idea of home. With expensive flights and added risk of a country unable to handle the crisis, Samihat Rahman ’22 had no choice but to stay away from her home in Bangladesh, away from her parents. She was able to get a little piece of familial comfort when a classmate invited her to spend the term in Vermont. “It was great. I had a friend to take classes with and her family made me feel so at home,” she said. She then spent the summer in Canada with her extended family. “I wanted to go back home home to Bangladesh but that was just not feasible,” Rahman said.

“I knew coming back was the best option because taking classes in Canada was too much. I was constantly moving between my two uncles’ houses and felt too unstable to focus on classes. Even if I was in Bangladesh, it would’ve been fine because I have my space there. But even with family, I didn’t feel at home in Canada.” After spending a week of fall term in Canada, Rahman was able to make the trip back to Carleton.

These testimonials only scratch the surface of the diverse situations Carleton students and international students face in their ability to travel, see family and feel at home on campus.. Being unable to make choices such as being with family during one of the most tumultuous times of their lives, being unable to feel at home, and even feeling alienated from the country they live in, they have become acutely aware of being resident aliens or immigrants in the United States.

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