Mizzou 2 promotes inclusivity for dependents of international students

The organization is devoted to helping dependents of international students feel more valued in the MU community.

When Jessica Osaze arrived in Columbia in the fall of 2017, she felt isolated from the community.

Osaze had just said goodbye to her family in Nigeria to come to the U.S. with her husband, who had been admitted to MU as an international student. She had never heard of MU or thought of attending the university, but she wanted to move to the U.S. to support her husband.

While Osaze’s husband attended classes and university events, she was stuck at home, often feeling depressed and lonely.

In a completely new country, Osaze had few ways of meeting new friends and other spouses of foreign exchange students. She felt like she would not fit in at MU events, especially if her husband was unavailable to attend with her.

Osaze also faced another setback — her visa did not allow her to work in the U.S.

When she first moved to the U.S., Osaze held an F-2 visa. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, F-2 visas are for dependents, such as spouses or children of international students studying in the U.S. Individuals who hold these visas cannot work and can only attend certain schools part-time.

The limitations of an F-2 visa can cause feelings of isolation and depression in spouses of international students, Osaze said. The inability to work or attend school full-time hinders involvement in the local community.

“Until I became a student as well, it was not a nice part of my life to remember,” Osaze said.

She eventually changed her visa so that she could attend MU and study social work.

Osaze shared her experience with her friend Lily Ikoh, an F-1 visa holder. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, F-1 visas are reserved for international students studying at accredited academic institutions. Ikoh was inspired to take action after learning about the difficulties experienced by those with F-2 visas, which led her and Osaze to found Mizzou 2.

Osaze, president, and Ikoh, vice president, founded the organization Mizzou 2 to provide spouses who hold F-2 visas with a space to foster leadership skills and become a part of the MU community. Osaze believes that if individuals with F-2 visas are more involved on campus, they will face less depression, stress and isolation.

“We know that a lot of students actually have presentations, skills and talents that they would like to share with people and who need an audience,” Osaze said. “As an organization, what we do is bring F-2 [dependents] and students together for such occasions.”

Ikoh said that Mizzou 2 has also enriched her experience as an international student.

“I pay more attention to not just myself, but also my family and other people's families as well,” Ikoh said. “Also, it’s just been easier for me to deal with the cost that comes with being an international student.”

Mizzou 2 has hosted many events to promote inclusion of individuals with F-2 visas. The organization’s first event during the summer of 2019 was a free photography workshop meant to help F-2 dependents and MU students connect with each other and learn a skill together.

Member of Mizzou 2 and F-2 visa holder Micheline Seide attended the photography workshop and said it was great to learn something new with others.

The organization also held weekly African dance lessons last fall to allow members of Mizzou 2 to share their talent and their culture with MU students. Osaze said these lessons brought MU students and F-2 visa holders together in a fun way.

When the pandemic began, Osaze found it more difficult to hold events with MU students and spouses of international students due to safety restrictions. The organization hosted a Zoom workshop open to the public about how to cope with stress during difficult times.

While Mizzou 2 has contributed to promoting involvement for spouses of international students on campus, Osaze said there is still work to be done.

Osaze believes MU could better include individuals with F-2 visas by sending them personal invitations to university-sponsored events. She said this would give F-2 holders more confidence to go out and meet new people even if their spouse is unavailable.

MU could also send occasional check-in emails to spouses of international students, Osaze suggested. She said this could help spouses feel like they have a support system.

Seide believes that there is not much MU could do to help her unless she is able to attend the university, which is not allowed with her current visa. She hopes to one day switch to an F-1 visa and attend school when she no longer has to stay home to watch her children.

Osaze said that MU students can also help be more inclusive of dependents of international students.

“If you find any F-2 [dependents] of other students, try to be nice and try to expand what they are used to,” Osaze said. “Every day just say hi, and then maybe they will be more open and willing to mingle and then feel a bit more welcomed.”

Edited by Sophie Stephens | sstephens@themaneater.com

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