Vietnamese students adjust to pandemic times in the US

By Thanh Tam   April 8, 2021 | 11:00 pm PT
Vietnamese students adjust to pandemic times in the US
Students walk around the University of Michigan campus, amid the Covid-19 outbreak, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S., August 19, 2020. Photo by Reuters/Emily Elconin.
Xuan Quynh was thrown into the proverbial deep end on arrival in the U.S. last August, coming into frequent contact with seriously ill patients including those with Covid-19.

"I came to the U.S. in August last year, right when the Covid-19 outbreak in both America and Vietnam was quite severe.

"Besides studying via Zoom, I also interned in the palliative care and geriatric care units of the Massachusetts General Hospital. So I regularly came into contact with many people with serious illnesses, including Covid-19 patients."

Quynh, who is majoring in clinical social work at Boston College, Newton City, under a Fulbright scholarship, said her work in the hospital was mainly providing psychological support for patients hospitalized alone because the hospital would not let relatives visit as part of the Covid-19 prevention protocol.

Some patients weren’t allowed to go home even when they were at the brink of death, she recalled.

"I was very scared when I first worked with Covid-19 infected people, continuously checking my protective gear and face mask.

"But, after some time, I thought about the patient's situation and how lonely and afraid they were, and I found my work necessary and meaningful. I learned a lot while doing internships in the hospital amid the pandemic," she said.

Her work also put her in the prioritized group for Covid-19 vaccinations.

"I felt fine after the first shot, but was sick for three days after the second. That was also an interesting personal experience because I was quite sick with no one around to take care of me."

Quynh lives alone in an apartment near the hospital. Amid the pandemic, she strictly adheres to social distancing measures and doesn't go out or meet friends a lot, choosing to chat via Zoom. "Making friends in a new environment is difficult," she said.

Vinh Thang, a media student at Pace University, New York, found it difficult to deal with the absence of extracurricular activities.

"Activities such as sports, games, rhetoric clubs and other clubs with the participation of hundreds or even thousands of students is an attractive feature of the education system in America. But the pandemic has deprived many foreign students of these experiences."

Having gone to America with his wife and children, Thang met with "unexpected" challenges because of the pandemic.

"Before the pandemic happened, children went to school while their parents went to school or work. But that has not been the case for the past year. For families with children going to the U.S. to study right when the pandemic hit, this is has been a huge and unexpected challenge," he said.

Thanks to a scholarship from the U.S. government, Thang was fully supported financially even during the pandemic. But there were other worries.

"The biggest worry for international students with families studying in America, especially during the Covid-19 outbreak, is medical expenses. The cost of medical treatment and care here is extremely expensive. Even though they don't have enough money, families have to buy health insurance, which is not cheap. If they get sick and have no insurance, they won't be able to cover the medical bill," he explained.

The average cost of medical treatment for a Covid-19 patient who does not have insurance or receives care outside the network will vary greatly by age, at around $51,000 for patients from 21 to 40 years old and over $78,000 for patients 41-60 years old, according to FAIR Health, an America nonprofit that aims to transparency to healthcare and insurance costs.

Hospitalization costs for uninsured patients under 20 years old averages around $68,000, and for patients over 60, this figure rises to around $77,000. With insurance, the highest average cost to be paid by people over the age of 40 is $ 40,208 and for those aged 21 to 40, around $26,000.

For Bao Long, who is doing a master's program in public health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, life in the U.S. in the midst of a pandemic is a bit boring, but not too difficult.

"I came to the U.S. to study at the beginning of January this year. Since I was already used to learning online in Vietnam, I haven’t felt that my education is greatly affected by the pandemic. Furthermore, I don't have to worry about the time zone differences now."

Long said that he sometimes feels tired and bored about having to "hug" the computer and study all day at home instead of going to school and seeing teachers, friends and participating in group discussions directly.

"It's boring to stay at home for such a long time. Since I have to study a lot during the day, I limit going out. Usually, I only go out one morning a week to go to the supermarket and buy things for that week and one day to attend the seminar. I rarely meet with my friends because I am afraid of contracting Covid-19 and infecting others."

He added that Baltimore was very dangerous city at night, so he hardly steps out after sunset. With 58 homicides per 100,000 residents, Baltimore is considered America's deadliest city, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Mentally prepared

Thu Trang, a student pursuing a master's degree in English teaching at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing City, said she hasn’t faced too many challenges studying abroad. Nothing really shocked her because she was mentally prepared, she said.

"I have carefully followed how America is dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak as well as the teaching system MSU's using for its online classes at this moment."

In addition to studying for her degree, she is also focusing on improving her life skills, Trang said.

Although she regretted that many of the school's academic and social events have become online affairs to ensure safety, she also felt that the accelerating immunization campaign in the U.S. will soon help repel Covid-19 and students would be back in school.

"Limiting trips to crowded places like restaurants has forced me to learn how to cook. So I can eat delicious food, ensure that it is clean and save a lot of money."

Trang said people in East Lansing were adhering very well to social exclusion measures and the local immunization campaign had speeded up. All of Michigan's priority groups have been vaccinated and the campaign has been reaching out to young people aged 16 and above from April 5.

"I have signed up for the vaccination and am waiting for the appointment. My teachers and friends are also happy with the campaign. Everyone is waiting for their appointment to get the shot."

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