How To Cope With COVID-19 as a Graduating International Student

As an international student who is graduating in May 2020, this is not how I imagined my last few months of college life to look like. Graduating International students, including myself, are facing anxiety and uncertainty about their future. Questions like “What if I get infected? I don’t have any family here” and “Will I be able to find a full-time job before my 90-day period?” are constantly running through my mind.

To provide context, Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that lets international students work in the United States for one year or three years with a STEM extension. If you cannot find a job within 90 days of your OPT start date, you are forced to return back to your home country. Employers generally do not prefer hiring international students and it has become even more difficult for international students to get hired in a pandemic. To make matters worse, four Republican senators submitted a letter to President Trump to suspend four major visa categories, including OPT.

I'm sure that the past few months have been an emotional rollercoaster for all graduating international students. However, I was able to cope with COVID-19 as a graduating international student through the following five ways:

1. Accept the Reality

I have been in denial for the longest time. I couldn’t bring myself to believe that my last semester of college got cut short and that I still don’t have a full-time job offer. My mind had been protesting for the longest time with thoughts like “This cannot be real!” or “Why is this happening?” However, I have realized that such thoughts hinder you from coming up with solutions. Once you accept the reality, your mind will be filled with solution-oriented thoughts like “What is the solution for my situation?” or “There must be some way to get through this!” Having a solution-oriented mindset will help you take action to better your situation. Remember that the pandemic is not in your control, but what you can do about it is in your control.

2. Don’t Give up Hope

If you are trying to find a job, don’t give up hope. I know it seems impossible to find a job right now, but keep trying. For the longest time, I was unmotivated to apply for jobs or network with anyone. I thought to myself “What’s the point of taking efforts when I know nothing is going to come out of it?” I was in a negative headspace until I came across this wonderful post on LinkedIn.

The Class of 2009 graduated during a recession and if there’s something we can learn from them, it is to not give up.

3. Improve Your Skills

Check out multiple job descriptions for the positions you are interested in. Job descriptions will list the skills and software you need to be familiar with in order to excel in that position. Create a list of skills and software that you do NOT have any knowledge of and take the time to learn it. You can take a variety of courses on LinkedIn Learning and even earn certifications for it. Harvard University is offering a bunch of free online courses. Other websites that are offering free online courses are Khan Academy, Udemy, and Coursera. Improving your skills will increase your chances of getting hired.

4. Be Proud of Yourself

While your commencement may have been canceled, know that it is not the only way to celebrate your accomplishments. I booked flight tickets for my parents six months prior to my commencement for them to come to visit me for my graduation. While that is not happening anymore, I’m still proud of myself and grateful for the experiences I have had while studying abroad.

It is not at all easy to leave your home country and family behind and start a new life in another country all by yourself. You, as an international student, are already strong enough and know how to deal with uncertainties, having dealt with the uncertainties of moving to a new country. You will be able to get through this just how you have got through every obstacle in your college journey. Take some time to reflect back on your experiences studying abroad and be proud of how far you have come. Reflecting back on the positives will help improve your mood tremendously.

5. Seek out support

Many international students are living alone without roommates or family. It is common to feel lonely and upset. If you are in this situation, do not hesitate to seek out support. Make sure that you stay in touch with family and friends through regular Zoom calls. Although my sister lives in Scotland and my parents live in India and I'm in the United States, we have set up a time for us to communicate with each other every day through group video calls. Get in touch with friends you haven't had a chance to talk to because of your busy schedules. Reach out to your university's mental health services if you need to talk to a counselor. Remember that you are never alone and there's always help available.

Lastly, know that international students are known for their resilience and hard work. You will definitely overcome your struggles and will shine brighter than ever before.

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