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Foreign Students Cope with Katrina's Interruptions
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Foreign Students Cope with Katrina's Interruptions

Katrina & Beyond

Foreign Students Cope with Katrina's Interruptions

Foreign Students Cope with Katrina's Interruptions
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Hurricane Katrina abruptly halted the studies of thousands of foreign students at colleges along the Gulf Coast. Now, those students are struggling to pick up their studies.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The people displaced by Hurricane Katrina include tens of thousands of college students. That group includes about 3,000 foreign students. Foreigners face their own barriers to getting their lives back together, as NPR's Reena Advani reports.

REENA ADVANI reporting:

Twenty-eight-year-old Ursula Daxecker left her hometown of Innsbruck in the Austrian Alps to study at the University of New Orleans. She figured with fluent English and a PhD in political science under her belt, she'd be able to sell herself better in the job market. Now she's finished three years of study and has a couple more to go. She has a six-year-old son and recently married an American. When she heard Katrina was coming, she and her family hit the road.

Ms. URSULA DAXECKER (University of New Orleans Student): We had a car and so we took the car, went to Jackson, Mississippi, thought we were going to stay there for two days, three days and then go back home.

ADVANI: But as Daxecker saw images on television of her Lakeview neighborhood under water, she knew there was no going back.

Ms. DAXECKER: It became obvious that my university would not be operating, probably, for the fall. We decided we have to go somewhere where both I and my husband can do something.

ADVANI: That somewhere turned out to be Washington, DC, plenty of universities and jobs. Daxecker's now at George Washington University. She studies near campus in donated space: a spartanly furnished office with three flat-screen computers but no sign of any books. Daxecker aches for the 50 books she lost to Katrina. And though she's busy with her studies, in the back of her mind, she worries about how to pay the bills.

Ms. DAXECKER: I'd much rather, you know, be able to go back and teach a course, and as it looks, I may be able to teach a course online. But I hope I have students in my class--that's the thing I'm worried about right now.

ADVANI: US visa regulations only permit international students to work on the campus where they were originally admitted. And unlike the 68,000 American college students displaced by Katrina, foreign students can't apply for federal aid. They typically don't qualify for any kind of long-term assistance. Daxecker runs her fingers through her hair in frustration at how the system works.

Ms. DAXECKER: I paid for those income taxes. I've lived in Louisiana for three years. I feel like I should be eligible for some aid, and the only reason that I'm in a better position is the fact that I'm married to a US citizen.

ADVANI: Congress is considering bills that would bring some relief to international students. And the Department of Homeland Security has loosened some of the regulations, but rules about taking a full course load and not working off campus remain in place. Jamie Zuieback, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says the government is doing the best it can to help.

Ms. JAMIE ZUIEBACK (Immigration and Customs Enforcement): We recognize that Hurricane Katrina changed a lot of situations for a lot of people, and so we'll be looking on a case-by-case basis.

ADVANI: And for students who may have left the country and want to return...

Ms. ZUIEBACK: Our priority is to ensure that those students who came here to study can continue their studies here in the United States.

ADVANI: That's good news for Ruben Jamalyan, who's supposed to be studying public health at Tulane University. Jamalyan is 35, married and has a two-year-old son. He's a pediatrician from Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. A tour in the Soviet army spared him from the 1988 earthquake in his home country. Katrina was his first hurricane.

Dr. RUBIN JAMALYAN (Tulane University Student): I had just settled for my two-bedroom apartment, furnished it here. I was expecting my family to join me there.

ADVANI: Jamalyan found shelter at the Superdome and was evacuated to Dallas after five nights. On the bus ride to Texas, his academic sponsors called him on his cell phone.

Dr. JAMALYAN: They told me that I have some emergency money by Western Union, and I have already transferred from Tulane University to Emory.

ADVANI: So now, Jamalyan is in Atlanta and knows he's lucky to have found a program that offers him comparable classes. One international student he was with returned to Morocco; others are scattered at universities across the US. Reena Advani, NPR News.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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