Protecting International Students on Campus

Stories from the Front Lines

I have taught in several colleges and universities and not one of them in over thirty years asked me to take a physical examination, or to be immunized before I started teaching. (I recently started taking classes at Junior Colleges and none of them have asked for immunization records either.)

In 1990 when I signed on to my last job, there were many students on campus who were recruited from other countries.  To my knowledge, they were not required to be immunized either.  Things are changing these days.

Lovely children in Sierra Leone

Lovely children in Sierra Leone

In 1970, I made my first trip out of the United States to visit Senegal and Sierra Leone, West Africa.  It took six months for me to obtain all of the immunizations that were required by my own government.  I had to travel to special cities for immunizations, like Yellow Fever, because vials could only be opened periodically.  The CDC (Center for Disease Control) would allow me to leave the country, but I could not return if I did not have the immunizations.  (I will address the issue of the CDC in another blog.)

Some time during the Carter administration, those rules, those barriers, were brought down.  The Center for Disease Control became a recommending not regulating agency.  It could no longer require people to obtain immunizations that might save their lives or the lives of people they met in foreign countries.  I believe that this was a mistake.  (I understand the controversy over immunizations, but I think they have protected me in the almost sixty countries I have visited.  And I regularly take boosters shots for almost all of them.)

Sierra Leone

A valley in Sierra Leone

In spite of obtaining all the immunizations, I had to take Quinine tablets to prevent Malaria while in Sierra Leone, but still came down with several different problems.  Bottled water did not exist in the “bush” at this time.  So I tried to drink bottled soda, but much of it was contaminated.  We were served food that was rancid in people’s homes.

We also were attacked by snakes, wild cats,  and other animals. A bridge we had to cross had been destroyed by the fall floods, so we walked through the muck and the Jeep crossed the river on two logs.  Thank goodness there were no piranha in the water that day.   I developed ulcers on my legs from bites from insects that I did not see.  It was a challenging trip.

In one village, I met the people called Fulas. They lived with their cattle, and were infested with parasites that you could see crawling up and down under their skin, on their arms and legs, and across their eyes.

Selvidge being honored by a tribal chief with a gift of a chicken

Selvidge being honored by a tribal chief with a gift of a chicken

We slept in grass huts and talked with the locals.  Bread was baked daily by one of the village men.  In some villages, the tribal leader would meet us and give us a gift.  The picture to the left was of a chief giving me a chicken.  What was I going to do with a chicken?  He offered to cook it for us, so we dined on that chicken for supper.  The drums always announced our arrival and followed us everywhere we traveled.  The locals knew we were in their space.  Before we could reach a village the people ran out to meet us.

This travel excursion was the trip of a lifetime for a twenty-one year old girl who had never traveled out of the country.  It was a rare and wonderful experience that could easily have turned dark, if I had contracted a disease unknown to the medical world in the United States.  And, who knows, one may surface later in life.  I know of an older engineer who built petrol plants in Taiwan.  One day he woke up, after he had retired and was living in the United States, to find that his eyes were fused shut.  Finally, after threats of surgery, they discovered that he had contracted parasites that had lived in his body for decades and were just emerging.

When I began teaching in my last job, I naturally gravitated toward the international students on campus.  They invited me to their sleeping rooms and fed me.  But this experience here in the United States, was deplorable.  During one evening, I was invited to eat food off the floor with my hands (No lie).  Scores of international students lived in an old building, a ghetto,  near the campus. A huge floor was divided into rooms by curtains.  One of  my students lived in that 9×9 curtained room.  She was such a wonderful person and wanted to thank me for being her teacher and helping her to adjust to the United States.  I have no idea where she cooked the food.  I did not see a bathroom or a kitchen anywhere.  I told her that I really could not eat the watery rice with my hands.  Did she have a fork?  She went down the row of curtained rooms and found one.  She was so gracious.

It did not take me long after that meal, to find and donate everything she needed to help her survive in the United States.  That same beautiful student was sexually attacked by one of the international professors at my university.  She told me the story, but where was the proof?  She had no one to take up her case.  There was no one that I could go to on campus that would help her.  She was so vulnerable and caught!

And while my student was so gracious, her living space was not.  Just sitting on the floor in that building with scores of those students from all over the world placed me and everyone there at risk.  It also placed people with whom they came in contact at the university at risk.  A single infectious disease could have spread like wildfire.  Where was the hygiene?  What about water?  What about kitchen and bathroom facilities?  They all shared them and where were they?  Outside?  Yet they were allowed to live this way, not far from the university.  People in Sierra Leone lived in better circumstances than these students.

Next, I will discuss the really scary prospect of unprepared faculty taking students to other countries.


As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge

This entry was posted in communicable diseases, Sierra Leone, Students at risk, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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