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Foreigners say Sept. 11 hasn't disrupted studies



Published: Mon, January 14, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The students say America remains the top destination in the world to get an education, and Sept. 11 hasn't changed that.

By RON COLE

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Mohd.Faraz Ahmad was at home in Aligarh, India, on Sept. 11 when news of the terrorist attacks on the United States flashed on television.

Ahmad's first reaction was shock and horror "for the people who died and the families."

His second reaction was more personal.

Ahmad, 22, had finalized plans about two months earlier to come to this country to study civil and environmental engineering as a graduate assistant at Youngstown State University.

"After Sept. 11, I asked myself, 'Am I going to have problems getting a visa and all of that?'" Ahmad said. "'Will I still be able to go?'

"But everything turned out all right."

Ahmad arrived in Youngstown last Monday and began graduate classes when spring semester opened today. He is among a dozen new foreign students studying at YSU this semester.

Below normal: That's well below the usual 30 to 35 new foreign arrivals the university gets in the spring semester, said Dr. Sylvia Jimenez Hyre, director of YSU's Center for International Studies and Programs.

Hyre attributed the drop to tighter requirements on student visas since the Sept. 11 attacks, coupled with concerns some foreign students might have about coming to the United States amid the uncertainty surrounding the war on terrorism.

"Everything is a little bit harder now," said Susan Khawaja, YSU assistant director of international student and scholar programs. "Even getting a flight is harder. But the big thing is getting a visa."

When terrorists struck four months ago, Congress and immigration officials cracked down on granting visas to students entering the United States.

Although a proposed moratorium on student visas never materialized, lawmakers have passed stricter requirements, especially for young men from Middle Eastern countries.

The result, Hyre said, is a reduction in the number of new students coming to YSU from the Middle East.

One from region: The newest arrivals include only one student from the Middle East: Hadi Chammas, 20, of Lebanon, a freshman studying civil engineering.

Chammas said he came to the United States in late October, before stricter visa requirements went into effect for Middle Eastern students.

"I thought it would be more difficult to come here, but I was surprised," he said. "It was easy."

Chammas, who has relatives in Pittsburgh, said he was not afraid coming to the United States in the wake of the attacks, and he said he feels comfortable in Youngstown.

"I'm legal here," he said. "I'm here to learn. I'm here to study. I'm not here for problems. I'm not afraid."

All nine of the new foreign students at YSU interviewed for this story said the terrorist attacks didn't even give them pause about their plans to come to the United States to study.

America, they said, is still the top destination in the world for students to get an education, and Sept. 11 hasn't changed that.

"My family has always encouraged me to come here and study and have a better life," said Fatemeh Dehjhan, 37, of Iran, who lived in Canada for four years before coming to Youngstown on Jan. 4. She is a graduate assistant in counseling.

"I love America," she added. "I'm sure I'm not going to have any problems."

Anthrax concerns: Hyun Jin Kim, 27, of South Korea, and his wife arrived in the United States on Dec. 31. He said his family and friends cautioned him about coming here in light of the anthrax scares that followed the terrorist attacks.

"Especially my parents were concerned about that," said Kim, a graduate assistant in YSU's Dana School of Music.

"But I thought that Youngstown is not a big city, so I thought that at least here is safe."

Cuihong Wen of China, who is studying economics at YSU, agreed. "Youngstown is a safe place," she said.

Shortly after Sept. 11, two YSU students from Kuwait left school to return home. Hyre said she thinks those two students are returning for spring semester, although she said she has received no official word.




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