By Dewey Sim
On the third week of school, I should have been in my apartment doing my weekly readings, but I found myself at the porch of the Columbia City Courthouse.
Protestors of all ages and beliefs were braving the sub-zero Missouri cold, as they clasped tightly onto their colourful banners, while some of them held their clenched fists high in the air.
A Muslim speaker, clad in her headscarf, loudly recited: “My story will not be shaken by the perception of others. I have been deemed unwanted, a nuisance, something that needs to be removed before I grow too tall.
“They will try to remove me, but I will keep growing back. And we are a beginning, a precursor of something yet to come.”
The protesters erupted again with their thunderous cheers in unison against the inauguration of the country’s 45th president.
I am now studying at the Missouri School of Journalism, in the city of Columbia, right smack in the middle of America.
On my flight here, an air stewardess asked me if coming to America was my first choice. I said yes then.
But I question myself, sometimes, if coming to the United States has been the best or worst decision of my undergraduate life.
I am here in this country at a time when its people seem most divided; a time when tensions are starkly high, when protests against new policies break out every other day.
Within his first week in office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that altered immigration policy to ban the entry of immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
But the Department of Homeland Security later announced that it would suspend the implementation of the immigration order after a federal judge temporarily blocked it.
However, fears continue to spread across the country.
I have read stories on how couples and marriages could be torn apart because of the new order, and how the many big dreams and plans immigrants had for their families may be dashed.
And things only get worse. My Muslim friends in the other states have received personal emails from their professors asking them not to leave the country, lest the now-fluid laws change again.
The international centre of my university also sent us three emails over the past week.
One was titled “Support for Our International Students”, with the opening paragraphs assuring international students like me that we were welcome, valued, and supported.
It seems like states are now in chaos, constantly trying to guess the president’s next move, and in their best efforts, cushion the adverse effects on people.
However, amid the political turmoil, I was, in fact, heartened by the many responses and observations that I saw from different groups of people around the country.
As the executive order was abruptly rolled out, lawyers gathered at major airports across the country, voluntarily helping those trapped at immigration and offering support for those in legal need.
An Uber driver I befriended also tried to do his part. On the ride home, he was fervently talking about how he could reach out to and help those immigrants in need.
He told me that he would pick passengers up from the nearby regional airport, and if they happened to be immigrants, he would give them a free ride to their destination.
In his words, these immigrants need a home most badly, and the least he could contribute was to show them that not all Americans are against them, and that America is a peace-loving and friendly country that welcomes all.
These simple gestures are the little things that make the Missouri winter cold less terrifying to live in, and remind me that coming to America was probably the best decision I made, and the best experience I could get.
Protests will probably continue to gain momentum. Even though protesters have been largely successful in voicing the concerns of Americans, the future remains uncertain as many feel victimised in their home country, be it the Muslim or the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities.
Intensifying the conflict, Mr Trump had also just announced in a press conference last month that he will be implementing a new ban in the coming weeks.
But I am also heartened by how many undergraduates are now paying greater attention to political developments and voicing their concerns for issues they hold close to.
Kathryn Kidd, who majors in Environmental Studies at the University of Missouri, is worried about the confirmation of Mr Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — the government agency which enforces energy and climate change regulations.
“I can’t seem to wrap my head around how picking someone who avidly denies climate change and openly supports fossil fuel companies as the head of EPA would be a good idea,” she told me. “I am very worried about how this will affect my career in the future.”
The next four years will not be easy, as many of my American professors and friends agree.
It is particularly so for the news media industry.
As a journalist, I have learnt that this is the time when accurate and unbiased news must be disseminated to all parts of the country, for people to learn the facts, so they can make a political stand.
I have four more months here in the United States. The political landscape is changing every day, but I am excited to see how things will unfold for America. I believe that things will eventually fall into place, and its people will learn to stand together stronger than ever.
At the end of the university chancellor’s email to us, he said: “I care and want to reassure you. I am optimistic this will work out.”
Things will work out.
Let’s be hopeful.