International students express thoughts on living in Pullman during pandemic

Iranian student calls his parents every day to lessen their worries; Pakistani student learned to cook better during quarantine



International student Mahdi Zeraat Pisheh rows a boat on Lake Coeur d’Alene. He cannot see his family in Iran because he has an expired passport and is unable to get a new one.

BRADLEY GAMBLE, Evergreen reporter

An Iranian international student could not have imagined he would be stuck in Pullman during the middle of a pandemic due to an expired passport.

The junior civil engineering major, Mahdi Zeraat Pisheh, said he sent his passport and other documents to the Iranian embassy in Washington, D.C. He has not heard back from them, and he assumes it is related to COVID-19 delays.

Without a new passport, he said he is unable to leave the country to see his family. After starting as a student at WSU in 2015, he has seen his family once in person.

He said he still talks to them every day. His parents are worried about him because of the long distance between them. He has been tested for COVID-19 twice to ease their worries.

Mueed Jamal, a Pakistani international student in Pullman, said he refuses to go home because he is afraid of possibly catching the virus on an airplane.

The second-year mechanical engineering graduate student said he contacts his family in Pakistan once a week to catch up with them and let them know he is safe.

“Obviously they’re scared because they hear how the USA’s situation is really bad here,” Jamal said. “Last time we talked, my mother was constantly advising me to keep washing my hands.”

Because Jamal has been less busy during the pandemic, he took the time to sharpen his cooking and baking skills. At first, he learned to make traditional Pakistani recipes, such as chicken curry and biryani rice dishes. Then, he learned to cook new chicken and pound cake recipes.

Zeraat Pisheh said WSU could do more to help international students financially. Tuition is higher for international students, and the university could change that. 

WSU cannot do much more than that because the federal government makes many of the rules for international students, he said.

Jamal said he felt the university supported international students when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement planned to send them back to their home countries if classes were fully online.

“I was really worried for a while,” he said. “I was thinking that maybe I had to go back, but I knew in the back of my head that it would be better soon.”

Jamal said he anticipated that COVID-19 cases would get worse when students returned to campus because he thought many students might bring the virus with them if they came on planes or came from a location with many cases.

Since the pandemic began, socializing has been hard. Zeraat Pisheh said he used to go to Starbucks to study with friends but cannot now because the company does not allow a group of people to sit at a table inside.

Now that school has started, he has found that he likes recorded lectures because it gives him time to take notes at his own pace. Zeraat Pisheh said he also appreciates that he no longer has to walk to class every morning. Despite the positive aspects, he said he feels that he does not learn anything in online labs due to a lack of hands-on experience.

Working as a research student has been difficult ever since students returned in August, Jamal said. During the summer, he worked in the lab five days a week. Now he has to do his research from home due to the increase of cases in Pullman.

Classes are easier now that he can listen to his lectures from his bed, he said, but he misses being able to interact with others in person. He hopes in-person classes will come back in the spring with safety guidelines in place. However, he believes that will only happen if a vaccine is produced.

“This is not the best scenario for education in the USA,” he said. “You want to interact with people and go out every day, meet with people and talk to them.”