Part 1: Coming to America
The Pandemic has altered lives all across the globe. Normal life events and milestones have been dissolved, replaced, or vastly changed. For Coco Zhu, the pandemic has put her life on pause. Zhu was scheduled to attend Seattle Pacific University this fall, but because of the pandemic and issues obtaining a visa, this plan was scrapped.
“I already had my class schedule, but the Visa appointment got canceled at the embassy, and I couldn’t physically make it to the campus,” Zhu Said.
Zhu is from Shanghai, China. She is currently taking two quarters off from school in hopes that by the spring, things will be normal enough to come to college at SPU. Zhu is dealing with much broader issues than just the pandemic. Since she lives in China she must go through a thorough screening process just to be admitted an F-1 Visa. An F-1 Visa is what is most commonly known as a “student visa.” International students must obtain one of these visas in order to study in the United States, and once they arrive stateside they have heavy work restrictions laid upon them. Getting an F-1 Visa is hard for anyone in any country, but especially hard in China.
“There’s a bunch of forms to fill out, and you have to schedule an appointment time, it’s like a one on one time with the people in the embassy,” Zhu explained. “They ask you a bunch of questions like, ‘why are you choosing this college’… then they will give you the visa, or not like on the spot. It’s a pretty stressful process, that person is literally going to affect your future.”
Zhu expressed doubt that she would even be granted a student visa in time for spring quarter at SPU. She is scared that she will get an embassy worker in a bad mood, who will deny her the documentation she needs.
Part 2: Religious and cultural freedom
While Zhu is hoping to get an education and find job opportunities in the U.S, her main reason for leaving China and coming to Seattle, is religious freedom. Zhu is a Christian and she hopes that living in America and going to a Christian college like SPU will give her the opportunity to practice her religion more freely.
“The states (US) is a much better environment for religious people, because it’s more free and everything,” Zhu said. “It’s a delicate issue actually.”
Zhu speaks impeccable English for someone who has only visited America once. She attended an International high school and picked up the language very quickly. She looks forward to what she believes will be a much more casual culture in America than in China.
“The biggest difference is kinda like how casual Americans are, they can just be like ‘Hey! Wanna hangout? Wanna grab a coffee?” Zhu interjected. “In China, really close friends would do that, but like if we’ve only met for like a couple times we wouldn’t just be like, ‘Hey wanna hangout?’ Unless you are really interested.”
Zhu is very confident that she will fit into American culture quickly. She does not see herself having much difficulty making American friends or networking.
“I’m sorta like one of a kind, because not all the Chinese students speak English as clearly as I am,” Zhu bragged. “I’m the type of person where if I go to the states I wouldn’t just be making friends with Asians. I would reach out to everybody… I would help them (international students) understand the American culture.”
As mentioned earlier, Zhu has only visited America once. However she has studied the country extensively online, which she believes gives her an advantage over her peers.
Part 3: The Mountain at her Gates
Zhu is unsure about her career path. She wants to study communications when she comes to America, and while she has confidence in her ability to network and fit in, she is still quite unsure but hopeful for her future OPT process. OPT or Optional Practical training is temporary on campus or off campus employment for international students. It allows for students like Zhu to work for 12 months after graduation without a working visa. There are two caveats. First, the job must be related to the applicant’s field of study. Second, STEM majors can get an extension of up to 24 months, something non STEM majors cannot do.
“I’m hoping if I get an internship or something and I can smoothly transfer my visa to a Working Visa, I know it’s not easy,” Zhu said.
When Zhu does apply for OPT she will face many challenges and bureaucratic red tape. First she will have to fight the stigma that many American employers have about hiring International students. Once she conquers that, she will have to time her one year OPT eligibility delicately with her working visa application, so she is not deported. This can all be daunting and challenging, but Volare can help students like Zhu get the advice they need to navigate these perilous waters.
Despite all the challenges Zhu is excited about her future in America.
“After I took that trip (her first trip to America) I was like, ‘I’m not going there for school, the food sucks.’” Zhu joked. “But after a few years of actually studying English and taking American curriculum, and everything, I was like cool I want to go.”