International students in Australia prepare to spend the holidays away from family

Add a cut in skilled migration, which would make it harder for international students to obtain permanent residency in Australia, along with a rise in xenophobia because of the coronavirus, and it all cumulates in what Mr. Sun describes as a feeling of increasing “hostility” toward international students from some quarters.

But he still maintains that the majority of Australians are welcoming. While the Chinese government has advised prospective students to avoid Australia because of racism, Mr. Sun is encouraging his relatives to come here to study, pointing to local community leaders, certain politicians and charities that rallied to support international students.

Kalyana Vania, a 21-year-old student at the University of Melbourne, spoke matter-of-factly about how her mental health deteriorated to the breaking point during Melbourne’s strict lockdown.

“At one point, it really got to me,” she recalled. “I was thinking: ‘Why am I here? Wouldn’t it be better if I just disappeared? At least then my parents wouldn’t need to pay to support me.’” But the silver lining, she said, was that the incident finally pushed her to see a professional and address underlying mental health problems.

For the students, a resilience born from spending years navigating an unfamiliar country with minimal support has morphed into an unhesitating willingness to step up and take care of one another other when government support is lacking. When their peers could not afford food, international student groups sourced and distributed free food packs. When they believed that their voices weren’t being heard, they became student representatives and got involved in political parties.

The holiday season is no different.

Archit Agrawal, 21, unable to fly back to India to spend time with his family, is helping organizing Christmas dinners for students in similar situations. Everyone will bring a dish from his or her own culture, and they’ll sing carols together.

“We’ve become a second family this year,” he said. “We spent most of this year together; we shared all our problems. It feels right to spend Christmas with each other.”

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