Anxieties Abroad About Conflict at Home

Checking in with Clark’s international students

Image+courtesy+of+Rose+Wine

Image courtesy of Rose Wine

Gari De Ramos, Scarlet Staff

With so much political divide in the United States flooding the headlines, it is easy to forget about news abroad. Clark University undergraduate student body has almost 300 international students from countries around the world, many of which are currently experiencing unrest, violence, or important political change. 

To write this article, The Scarlet sent out a Google form with questions and received responses from 18 students from China, Turkey, Cameroon, Nigeria, Haiti, Ecuador, Lebanon, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Northern Ireland.

What’s going on around the world?

Hong Kong – a Special Administrative Region of China – has seen protests go on since the summer, which have become increasingly violent. Turkey has been experiencing political unrest for the past few years, with many protesting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule. 

Venezuela is in the middle of an economic and political crisis, with debate over who is president and inflation rising 53,798,500% between 2016 and April 2019. 

Coming to the United States as a form of safety

For some, studying in the United States is a form of safety. Buba Sulle Dicko (’21) from Cameroon, said he fears for his and his family’s life. The two English-speaking regions of Cameroon have been at war for several years, with the violence killing roughly 3,000 and displacing many more. 

“I feel concerned especially as there is no close solution to the conflict,” said Dicko, who has moved his family to the outer regions. “The most disturbing part of this is the likelihood of spillover of violence to nearby communities.”

Living far away from family in danger has taken its toll on Dicko.

“I usually stay up until its morning in Cameroon to speak with my family before I go to bed. My wife and kids are struggling with life in a faraway region and the kids are always hospitalized with limited medical attention,” he said. “In most of my days, tears flow down my cheeks as my family cannot eat well, get treatment, or pay rent in their new location. Each time we speak, they want me to return and provide the essentials they used to have when I was home.”

Henry Ogor (’20), from Nigeria, also said that violence at home is what drove him to study in the United States. In the northern part of Nigeria, many fall victim to police brutality and gang violence. 

“I felt so unsafe to speak and live freely,” said Igor. “I hoped that coming to study here would prepare me for the task I want to undertake in the future.”

Although he is safe now, he feels that he is not doing enough to raise awareness of the plight of his countrymen. 

“I fear for the lives of my loved ones and the lives of the average Nigerian,” he added. 

Family and friends back home

For many international students, their family remains home while they are alone in the United States. One student from the Domincan Republic fears for all her female friends and family members, since the country has seen a skyrocketing rate of femicides, or murders of women. 

“I feel very privileged in the worst sense of the word,” said the Dominican student about being in the United States. 

“I feel helpless because there is no response by the state government and they are still denying their contributions towards the perpetration of these abuses,” she said. 

Michaelle Aristide (‘20), from Haiti, says that although her friends and family are safe in their secure homes, the school year has yet to start. Haiti has had political unrest for over a year, with the country locked down since mid-August. 

“I am sad, shocked, frustrated, and anxious,” said Aristide. “Being in the United States makes me even sadder because I haven’t been able to keep up as much as I want to, and I feel guilty for focusing on school.”

Gabriela Gabor (‘19) is from Venezuela, where her friends and family are at risk of “having their businesses taken away, dying during the protests, or dying while living their daily lives because of the insecurity.”

“I hate it,” she said. “I feel guilty and relieved to live in the United States.”

Change is happening, but without them

Many countries are also in the middle of what feels like notable protests that may have lasting consequences for the future of the country. Nico Duenas (’21) is the vice president of the International Student Association and from Ecuador.

“I am infuriated,” he said. “But I also feel helpless and useless.”

Nada Haddad (’22) is from Lebanon, which is also experiencing mass protests against its government. 

“It is about time for this to happen,” said Haddad, who is in support of the protests at home.

“I wish I could stand in solidarity with my family at home as they protest for the future of our country,” she said. “It is finally a movement that is grassroots, peaceful, inclusive, and celebratory of our unity. I wish I could be a more active part of it. I do feel quite a bit distracted while I’m here, always checking the news and Twitter to get the latest updates. It’s hard to juggle that while being focused on schoolwork and finals to end the semester.”

Not all agree with what is going on at home. All respondents from China expressed disagreement with how Hong Kong protestors are behaving. Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China, is in the middle of months-long protests that are calling for universal suffrage and democracy. 

“I am heartbroken,” said one Chinese student. “We all see Hong Kong as part of our family, but people in Hong Kong take this for granted.” 

Others have friends from mainland China that are studying in Hong Kong who had to travel back to China in fear of their safety. One Chinese student, who wishes to go by the acronym SY, travels through the Hong Kong airport to get to the United States at Clark. 

“I feel like I will be targeted in the airport if I am not careful,” she said. “I have read news about protestors in Hong Kong beating a random woman from mainland China.” 

“My father had to buy another flight ticket so he can accompany me to the United States,” she went on to say. “The ticket was very expensive. My family is not poor, but we would rather not spend this extra money.”

No longer home

Turkey has been experiencing political unrest for the past few years, with many protesting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule. One Turkish PhD student at Clark no longer feels like they can go back to Turkey. 

“I’ve lost my desire to go back and live there,” they said. “I’m doing everything I can to find a job abroad and not go back. I’ve lost my sense of home.”

A younger Turkish student, Ata Zekai Izberk (’23) does not feel the same way. 

“I feel lucky to be in a peaceful country, but I feel alone since my family is in Turkey,” they said.

Safer at home than in the United States

While some students are concerned for the safety of friends and family back home, some are concerned about their safety in the United States. 

“I have lived in mainland China and Canada,” said one student. “There, we live without gun violence.” 

“I feel 0% safety living and studying at Clark University,” said the same student from China. Elaborating on feeling unsafe on campus, this student said that their friend was recently hit by a car, their roommate was robbed on Birch Street, and they got a driving ticket from a “rude Worcester police officer.”

One student from Northern Ireland also finds life in the United States to be worse. 

“I know where I stand in my home country and find the segregation and political issues in the United States to be horrendous, even in comparison,” they said.

Moving forward

It is clear that many international students at Clark feel some level of distress about conflict going on at home. The Scarlet has shared these responses with the International Students Association, who plan to bring these concerns to the International Students and Scholars Office.