Coronavirus: Malaysian students in US face dilemma

Jasmin Irisha is pursuing her Master in Climate Science at Columbia University in New York City.
PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

PETALING JAYA - As Covid-19 continues to spread like wildfire in the United States, many Malaysian students are split in their decision to stay or come back.

Some are opting to leave the United States as soon as they can, despite universities doing their best to care for their students during this period.

Shazwan Abdullah, 23, who is Malaysian Student Association president at the Ohio State University in Columbus, said he intended to return to Malaysia after completing his degree in electrical engineering after the spring semester this month.

"The Ohio State University's Office of International Affairs is constantly providing avenues for international students' well-being throughout this crisis but financial support for getting tested has not really been promoted at this point in time.

Iman Ariffin is continuing her studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

"I have chosen to go back home mainly due to the fact that I have graduated. For the rest of our community here, many have chosen to go back once the spring semester ends after April 24," he said in an interview with The Star.

Mohsein Azman, 23, who studies economics and political science at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, said: "As a government scholar, my well-being is already looked after by my sponsors. As such, my peers and I will be staying until our scheduled flight back to Malaysia at the end of my last semester this month."

Mohsein, who is the head of the National Assembly of Malaysian Students in America (Namsa), said Namsa, with the help of the Malaysian Embassy in Washington, had a list of airlines still operating out of the United States for those who needed to get flight tickets home.

However, the returning Malaysian students also need to face the "elephant in the room" - the possibility of inadvertently bringing the virus back with them.

Jasmin Irisha, 25, who is pursuing her Master in Climate Science at Columbia University in New York City, which is the epicentre of the pandemic in the United States, said she completed a two-week quarantine at home upon her return recently.

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"It's our responsibility to take care of ourselves. I recognised the risk of travelling, and being a possible carrier of the coronavirus, especially coming from a high-risk area," she said.

Jasmin said she took all the necessary precautions and even disposed of the clothes she came back with, in case they were contaminated.

"My biggest fear was that I might be a carrier and might infect my family. If you experience any symptoms, make sure you get yourself checked at the nearest hospital," she said.

Other Malaysian students have decided to stay back, citing the massive inconvenience and trouble it would take to find flights and to attend online classes due to vastly different time zones.

Another student, Iman Ariffin, 22, also chose to continue her studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to complete her degree in biochemistry.

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"I feel like it is going to be a hassle to go home. I still have online classes going on and I'm planning to stay until the final exam.

"Plus, I'm graduating and I need to settle a lot of things before I go back home for good," she said.

Based on the advisory by the Higher Education Ministry on April 3, Malaysians studying overseas were advised to stay in their country of study and follow the instructions of their universities and local authorities.

However, the ministry is not barring students from returning home. Only that the students will have to pay for their flight tickets themselves.

For the latest updates on the coronavirus, visit here.