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Florianne Jimenez is a PhD student in composition and rhetoric at UMass Amherst. She is also an international student from the Philippines.


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Dear international students,


A couple of months ago, I wrote a post on how to negotiate being an international student caught between nations. Back then, I was only thinking about distance and adjustment, and how to think of our personal and professional lives transnationally. Shortly after that piece was published, the stakes of being an international student were heightened. Since the travel and immigration ban was issued on January 27th, we have been teaching, studying, working, and living in an environment that has explicitly said to us, “You’re not welcome here.”


This state of affairs is simultaneously normal and abnormal. There are historical precedents for the strengthening of walls and national borders, as well as the targeting of groups based on race, ethnicity, and religion. This is not to say that the status quo is acceptable, or that we should have expected it: it is a particularly ugly iteration of the racism in the US that has always existed. But the directness of this message, as well as the uncertainty that it casts upon our professional and personal goals, has not been present for decades.


And so, I write.


I have no legal advice to give regarding the Executive Order, nor can I offer practical tips regarding citizenship statuses or documents. What I do offer, however, and what I think we can all offer our communities, our families and friends, and each other, is a way to make our daily lives a little more compassionate.


First: know that this is a moment when there’s a lot to worry about. No international student has been immune to thoughts of anxiety or fear since January 27th. As graduate students who are already under immense amounts of pressure to get all our work done, we tend to downplay these anxieties just to get through the day: Maybe I’m worried over nothing! Maybe this is all just drama I’ve made up! Berating yourself for being worried is a terrible thing: it doesn’t help, and it only adds to the pile of negative feelings you’re already dealing with. Accept that you’re worried, and do what you need to address it. Talking to a therapist, a counselor, your school’s international students office, or an adviser might help. Controlling the amount and kind of information about current events is key as well. Some of us feel more secure when we’re as informed as possible – if that sounds like you, then collect all the trusted news, links, and resources that you can. If you feel overwhelmed by a huge influx of information, turn it off – Twitter, Facebook, cable news, etc. There’s no right way to be right now – there’s only a right way for you.


Second: trust that there are people out there who are willing to help and listen, and that they come in many forms. Bureaucratically, there may be an international students’ office on your campus, a designated point person in your program, or a student legal services office. It wouldn’t hurt to see what they have to offer, and to reach out for help.


Outside of official capacities, there are also people – friends, classmates, colleagues, professors, mentors – out there who are interested in what’s going on. Find these people and engage them: they can offer empathy and company when you need it. You may be sharing similar struggles to stay focused on work, so find ways to help each other. Create working or writing groups to keep each on track to finish your grading, your reading, your conference proposal, etc. Get coffee and catch up with a friend for an afternoon. It may sound like the most exhausting thing to do right now, but keep engaging with people – kindness is out there.


Consider, also, that people don’t express emotion or concern in all of the same ways, or even express it at all. On the surface, some folks may seem apathetic to what’s going on, or not want to talk about it. If that doesn’t sit well with you, don’t force yourself to change them. Surround yourself with people who care in the ways that you need, when you need it.


Third, remember that despite the increased attention on our citizenship statuses, our countries of origin, and our job market prospects, that we are not wholly defined by any of these. I’ve carved out spaces and time in my personal life where the Executive Order doesn’t exist, and I protect them fiercely: my writing, my intense almost-daily workouts, and eating well are top of my list. These aren’t the most profound examples, but these acts of self-care, which have nothing to do with my passport or politics, remind me that I’m more than just a statistic. (And also, my spin class is GREAT for burning stress away.)


The current state of affairs is not easy, and I doubt it will get any easier for any of us. But I hope that you don’t let the political climate keep you from doing what you need to do, and more crucially, what you want to do. You came to graduate school in this country for a reason, and for now the most crucial point is to stay the course. Don’t submit – stay. Do your work, build your community, take care of yourself. To despair is to confirm the darkest, cruelest assertions about us that are circulating, and I hope that this writing helps you resist.


Yours truly,

Florianne Jimenez


How are you reflecting on the immigration ban in your personal and professional life? Write back in the comments.

[Image by Flickr user Adam Mayer and used under Creative Commons license.]

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