Photo Courtesy of Brieanah Gouveia
Article Written by Paige Stewart
Thousands of students from across the globe attend college in the United States each year. Within this figure is a unique pool of students at Roanoke College, who bring their own skills and ambitions for the future to the Salem campus.
Some of these students, however, are feeling uneasy about their time living and studying in the United States. Last month, President Donald Trump introduced an executive order denying immigrants from seven countries entrance into the United States. The dominant religion practiced in these countries is Islam, and the ban is scheduled to last 90 days.
At Roanoke, about 50 students hail from countries other than the United States, according to the college website. Witnessing this recent transition of presidents and the rapid institution of new law has consequently altered the goals they brought when they arrived, several said.
Maryam Bukhari, for example, is an exchange student from Pakistan who studies health sciences. Her participation in the Fulbright Scholarship program made it possible for her to come to the United States. She said she was disappointed, however, when she received news of the immigration ban.
Although her country is not directly impacted, she is worried about rumors she has heard concerning Pakistan being added to the list of banned countries. In a composed yet assertive tone, she said that she has big plans to return to the United States to earn her master’s degree after completing her undergraduate education. International students like Bukhari work hard to have opportunities like the Fulbright program, which helps them overcome political and financial obstacles associated with studying abroad. However, with new measures like the immigration ban, they are slowly finding these opportunities to be jeopardized.
Sahar Mechmech, a student from Tunisia, is spending a year at Roanoke to study International Relations. Her home school, INSAT University, helped her obtain a prestigious scholarship from the United States Embassy to study abroad. After graduation, Mechmech plans to take what she has learned in the United States back to Tunisia to advocate for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) supporting the rights of women and LBGTQ communities. Her vision is to add a sense of organization to the freedom her nation already enjoys. Although Tunisia is not one of the seven countries banned from entrance into the United States, her J1 visa program is up for renewal next year, creating worries similar to those of Bukhari – that citizens from Tunisia will eventually be banished too.
Mechmech said she is grateful for her opportunities but she is apprehensive about the future. Her sympathy for the students who do not have the same opportunities as her has carried over into action. She has made efforts to become an informed student by attending the immigration ban teach-in on campus, rallying at the recent Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and interning with the college’s Office of Multicultural Affairs.
As a Muslim, however, Mechmech said she is still worried about her future in the United States. “His [President Trump’s] attacks on religion come from a place of ignorance,” she said. “If he were to talk to the community instead of listening to third parties, he and his supporters would change their minds.”
Freshman Gastón Ocampo from Argentina voices a similar opinion about the immigration ban. Studying International Relations and Business, Ocampo plans to remain in the United States for the next four years to complete his bachelor’s degree at Roanoke.
In reaction to the ban, Ocampo said, “You cannot generalize what one person does to a large group of people. The United States needs those people. They might be engineers or doctors. It is a stereotypical measure.”
With regards to the future, Ocampo worries that he will not be able to return to Argentina after graduation to get a job. Argentina is not one of the barred countries, yet he believes that the immigration ban suggests a larger ongoing problem in the United States that may eventually impact him and other international students. He said that people make sacrifices to come to the United States to realize their American dream, and while this ban does not affect them all, it marks the beginning of a new and less inclusive era.
Amidst these struggles, however, these students, along with the rest of their international peers, maintain a glimmer of hope. Mechmech said that from her experience at Roanoke, she is confident that Americans are welcoming to other cultures, no matter the Trump administration’s actions.
“We are a really loving people,” she said. “We will give you anything you ask for. And the people here are just the same. Countries and borders are just lines on the maps. The basic idea is about humanity, and we should be humanitarians.”