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Being a foreign student in the age of Trump

Being a foreign student in the age of Trump

 Zainab Hussain, originally from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is 22 years old and came to the United States on an F-1 Visa to study at San Jose State University and ended up double majoring in Psychology and Behavioral Science. She also earned a Minor in business studies. She’s currently on her OPT (Optima Practical Training) and works as a contractor for a pharmaceutical company. Her goal is to be able to go to grad school and to be as educated as she can. This interview took place in 2020 during the Trump administration’s various attacks on immigrants, including international students. 

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Why did you choose to study in the U.S.?

Honestly the first answer that comes to the top of my head was: What alternative is there? I chose the best option for my career and this was it. I was in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and I mean, sure there are universities there but they aren’t as good and graduating from one of those doesn’t really guarantee you a good career like it does here. The job opportunities aren’t that great and honestly, I don’t like living there at all. There’s no human rights, there’s no constitution, there’s no democracy, none of that stuff exists. So being able to get a student visa was a way to get out of there and start over somewhere else. It was a whole new start for me,  and my career advancement the main reason to come. The other reason is, there’s just no greater Choice/alternative. I looked at all the options and this was the best option, obviously it was the hardest option but that’s what made it worth it. My older sister went to San Jose State University and it was just easier to stay with family instead of being all alone.

Zainab Hussain, an international, student poses for a photo.
Zainab Hussain, originally from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is 22 years old and came to the United States on an F-1 Visa to study at San Jose State University and ended up double majoring in Psychology and Behavioral Science. Photo: Janeth Sanchez

2. What’s the most challenging part of studying in the U.S.?

To feel so different than everyone else, I never expected it would have such an impact on my sanity as a person. I thought I would just come, go to school. Since we all go to classes together; me, the Americans, everyone then we’d all have the same experience but then I got here and I realized life it’s not the same for us, the opportunities are not the same, the interactions inside/outside of class are not the same. The stigma that people have against us, especially Muslims with hijabs. I didn’t realize it would be like that. I didn’t realize that people would look at me so differently just because, you know, I was. I thought I would be able to blend in so it was really a challenge to stand out as much as I did and I still do. That’s the hardest part. It’s the fact that no one understands or respects how much you’re struggling and how hard you’re working, they don’t get it. That’s probably the hardest part when people don’t get it and they start to judge you instead of trying to support you.

3. How do you feel about the immigration policies that restrict International students’ education? 

Like everything else it’s an excuse. The system has used this pandemic, this global crisis which is affecting us more than everyone else, taking advantage of this crisis to make things harder for us. And more important, to turn the Americans against international students. Everyone always uses us as a threat, but we’re really not. We’re just here to live a good life because it’s harder where we came from. We had a hard life so we came to have some opportunities and we haven’t gotten anything for free. We work hard, we pay well, we don’t take anything for free at all and you don’t take anything for granted either. But unfortunately we don’t have any power in the matter, right? We are helpless and that’s what people need to see. My friends who were supposed to start as freshman this year, are up at 4 a.m. doing their classes because they weren’t allowed to come here and just be in America while studying at an America school, paying the full amount of fees. So they were really robbed of the whole experience. I think it’s really infuriating and it’s frustrating. 

How did you feel when it was rescinded?

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I felt like a pawn in a game. I felt like, ‘oh that’s it? It’s so easy for our lives to just be played around with like this?’ One day it’s the end of the world, the next day ‘Oops! We made a mistake. Let’s fix it.’ It’s just I felt like the whole thing was swept under the rug so quickly everybody just got over it and I was here like, ‘no!’ I hope that it encourages everyone to stand up for international students and to think critically about all laws and policies and bills that are passed. It’s about time everyone starts to see these actions for what they really are and remember that they have a say in it. We can’t vote but the Americans can go vote on our behalf and make those educated choices that help us.” 

The system has used this pandemic, this global crisis which is affecting us more than everyone else, taking advantage of this crisis to make things harder for us.

Zainab Hussain

4. What do you think that the U.S. would lose if they stop welcoming international students?

I think it would be a loss in terms of culture, in terms of diversity, not to mention the workforce. Everyone knows we work for cheap because we are desperate for the jobs and that’s what infuriates them. We don’t have a choice, we don’t have the option to say: ‘no thank you. I can’t accept this rate because it’s too low and I’m overqualified.’ We can’t say that because if we say that we get kicked out. The system is rigged against us to start with, and I think people would lose that ability to see this system for what it is without us. I do not believe in the American dream, I don’t believe you can just work hard and climb the rings, you have to have the privilege to get there, but isn’t that what the myth is all about? Being able to give someone the chance by working hard? Give us the chance. 

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